Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Thirteen

Wednesday, 29 March, 1989
Glasgow to Fitz (near Shrewsbury)
Day Thirteen


Elected not to eat the hostel’s soggy breakfast this morning. I did have a little bit of chore duty down in the members’ kitchen before I could get my card back and leave, though. Not sure how that works but I figured it was better just to get it over with and not take the time to enquire.

Got a freebie parking space in a garage on the fringe of the center city when someone who’d gotten an all-day sticker left early and the garage attendant gave it to me as I was pulling in. Not strictly kosher, I gather, and so I was a good child and made sure to park on the proper level, even if it did mean driving around till a space became vacant.

Had my bit of breakfast at the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street. I hear rumors that they’re not precisely as Mackintosh designed them (I’m referring to the tea room itself, not to the jewellery store downstairs) but I don’t really care at this point. Shared a table with a nice Scots couple who have a neighbor who’s going to go study in Moscow. Which should tell you something about Scottish communicativeness.

There was a bit of fumbling around over culinary terminology with the waitress, as I ordered a crumpet, meaning an English muffin, but got what I call a pancake, but what the Scots call a crumpet. Confused? So I ordered a muffin instead, and got what I’d call an English muffin, but what the English would term a crumpet. Right. But it was what I wanted, anyway.

Asked for more boiling water but the waitress brought me another pot of tea. And left it off the tab. I reminded her of it when I went to pay the bill but she said to forget it. Well.

Decided to make it to Shropshire before night, skipping the Lake District. Called and made a booking at a B&B near Shrewsbury.

Walked down and saw Mackintosh’s Daily Record Building in its little alley, then got the car and drove back to the University area to see the Glasgow Style exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum.

By now even Mackintosh was beginning to become too much of a good thing and it was getting late. So I just ran back to the Hunterian to get a postcard to send Jim and Annie Schoenmacher* [our custom furniture makers in Kansas City] and took off south down the A74 to Carlisle.

But not before stopping at a Jessop’s in Glasgow and spending another £48 or so on ten rolls of film . . . 10% off if you get ten, you see.

Misty and foggy today. Raining in places. Traffic not too bad, though.

Saw many beautiful things in the landscape on the way south. The Scottish Lowlands are rolling hills, now seen through a mist, bluish on either side of the carriageway. Passed the turn-off for Lockerbie . . . Wonder how long before that will once again be just the name of a nice holiday town and not be known primarily as the site of that tragic terrorist-induced plane crash last December?

Picked up the M6 north of Carlisle, and so into Cumbria. The fields from time to time manifested, even through the closed car windows, quite an odor of cowpies. Cundry smells! At first I thought it was only from herds of grazing cattle but it occurs to me that the farmers may be manuring their fields, this time of year. Well, what do you expect?

The mountains of the Lake District, though not attaining to the heights of the Rockies or the Swiss Alps, have a towering stark grandeur that is awe-instilling even as you merely race through at 80 [or sometimes 90] mph. I am continually amazed at the geographical and topographical diversity of this comparatively small island.

Filled up the car and bought some cookies to tide me over just past Lancaster. Checked the map for my route. I’m getting better at remembering the road numbers and towns but a little paranoia doesn’t hurt.

Thought I might hit some heavy traffic along the turnoffs for Liverpool and Manchester, but it wasn’t too bad.

Jumped off the M6 at Crewe and went through there and so along the A530 southwest through Nantwich and Whitchurch towards Wem and Shrewsbury. Whitchurch is a goodsized town (by which I mean, it has a Boots). You pick up the B5476 there.

I found the brick and timbered houses and the hedge-lined lanes of Shropshire peaceful compared to the gray harled houses and the stone walls of Scotland. But here you still have people ahead of you going 30 in a legal 60 zone or people behind wanting to do 60, on a road that any sensible Missouri highway engineer would tell you was for 45 mph, tops. And the frustration of having nowhere to stop and take a picture of all the excruciatingly typically-English pastoral harmony you’re seeing through your windshield.

The directions I had worked wonderfully until, at around 8:00 PM, I got to a kind of flattened Y-junction on a one and a half lane road past Harmer Hill. I’d been told to turn left at a T-junction and thought that must be it, since the lollipop at the top of the sign said "Bomere Heath," the name of the biggest village near Fitz Manor. But I went much farther than the called for 100 yards and saw no sandstone cross, the landmark I was to watch for. Turned around at first opportunity, drove back through the junction, and off along and into Bomere Heath.†

Big enough village to have mercury street lights. Tried calling the B&B but the village phonebox wasn’t working. So I got directions from the clerk in a nearby grocery store and set off again.

Major frustration-- it was dark by now, there were no such turn-offs as the woman had described, and I had a train of other cars behind me who couldn’t pass on this narrow, hilly, twisting lane. I could’ve screamed.

Turned around again, tried to find the junction where I’d gone wrong before. No, I did that first . . . Seems I hadn’t gone far enough. At any rate, I couldn’t find it and ended up the other side of Bomere Heath, at a nameless hamlet with a pub by the name of the Romping Cat. Cute, but not where I’m headed. Turn around again.

Anyway, I’d tried the clerk’s directions, they didn’t fly. But on the way back to the village I found the signs she’d referred to-- but on the other side of the road. She’d told me left when it should’ve been right.

I was all right thereafter. Found the cross-- a WWI memorial-- and ticked off the mile on the odometer and so found the lodge and the drive to Fitz Manor.

Arrived a little after 9:00. It was nice to have the illustration in the Staying Off the Beaten Track book, because that way I knew I was in the right place. Drove up in the yard and two dogs, a border collie and small, smooth haired creature, came running up, barking their greetings. I didn’t mind and if I had thought to be concerned, I was too tired to expend energy on it.

Got out, and attended by the dogs, addressed myself to the front door. I was glad of the dogs’ noise, since I couldn’t find the doorbell and my knocking wasn’t having much effect. And pretty soon, Mrs. Baly, the lady of the house, answered the door and let me in. She was actually surprised I’d made it down from Glasgow in such good time, even considering my meanderings in the immediate neighborhood.

When it came out I hadn’t had lunch or dinner, she made me a sandwich and brought it to me in the sitting room, where the other guests were gathered.

There was a log fire in the fireplace, which was a pleasant sight to see and even pleasanter to sit before. The other people there were Harry and Elspeth*, a middle-aged couple from Middlesex, and Ted and Susanna*, who are from near Cambridge.

Ted’s* an Anglican curate and we all talked for awhile on the difference, if any, between a priest and a vicar and how the curacy works. He was acquainted with some people from Coverdale* two or three years ago but is sure none of them is there still.

Tea was brought and served round and I was treated to a serving of the trifle that had been the dessert at dinner.

The party broke up around 10:00 and everyone retired to their rooms. Mine was a cheerfully decorated chamber at the front of the house, made more cheerful by Mrs. Baly’s introduction of an "electric fire," as they call a space heater here. The coal grate was no longer in use, and just as well. I dislike the odor.

There was also a shelf-full of books, and considering how very tired I was I sat up ridiculously late, till past midnight, reading vignettes out of one of James Herriot's.

After I turned off the light I realized my encounters with animals might be more firsthand. I could hear the unmistakeable squeak and rustle of mice in the baseboards. I very much wished for my cat, as Didon would make short work of any rodents that ventured out.

But lacking her, I told myself to buck up and go to sleep. The house is around 530 years old and I’m sure people have been sleeping here for centuries with the sound of mice in the walls, and have been jolly glad to know it wasn’t Something Worse.
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†Thanks to the modern wonders of Google Earth and Google Maps, I see now that the original directions were perfectly fine. The problem was how I interpreted them. That, and letting a large chunk of them slip my mind. The funniest thing has been learning that given the nature of British country roads, that if I'd kept on, the "wrong" turns would have got me where I wanted to be sooner and in a shorter distance, vs. turning around and retracing my route. Oh, well!

1 comment:

Sandy said...

The Manor is lovely (followed the link). I love James Herriot!