Sunday, 30 May 2010

Haughmond Farm Caravan Site


Set in what was once an orchard beside the farmhouse, this Certificated Location is probably the best we have stayed at so far. There was plenty of room, a lovely setting, and a friendly owner.

Haughmond FarmThe farmhouse is typical of the area and we could see it from our ‘van.

We watched squirrels chase a magpie away from ‘their’ lawn. Blackbirds fed just outside our door and robins were nesting in the hedge behind us.  Under the eaves of the house, swallows had built a nest and were busy in the early morning, catching insects and returning to the nest to feed their young. We heard owls at night and the dawn chorus was an early wake up call at around 4.00 am.

It made a great base for the surrounding area and we shall return later in the year to catch up on all the places we didn’t get round to in the 10 days we were there.

The senior Machins' motorhome 

David and Shirley joined us for two nights and it works really well. We all go out together in the day but spend the evenings separately – except for a celebratory glass of wine to toast David’s birthday, which was a few days after they returned home.

There are more pictures on Picasa, including some of our new awning.

Haughmond Hill - Contrasts

woodland-1 machinery-1

650,000,000 years ago, the south of England and Wales was 60 degrees south of the equator and part of the continent of Gondwana. Scotland and Ireland were several thousand miles away at the equator.

Earlier Precambrian volcanoes stood at the edge of a coastal plane and erosion washed sand and pebbles downstream, depositing the layers which form Haughmond Hill today.

In the late Precambrian, the horizontal layers were folded to become almost vertical. Hills were formed which, in turn eroded. This was so long ago that there were no animals or plants, and so no fossils.

Since then, the area has been under a tropical sea, washed by melting ice, a swamp, and a desert. When the last ice age retreated, 18,000 years ago, ice sheets scoured the hills into rounded shapes and the River Severn settled into it’s current easterly course through the Ironbridge Gorge.

There are two main types of Precambrian rock on Haughmond Hill – Greywacke and Conglomerate – with different uses. Crushed Greywacke is about the best road surface, remarkably non-skid. Conglomerate is crushed to be used in concrete.

Both rocks have been quarried for centuries and some was used at Haughmond Abbey. In 1950, large scale quarrying started and will continue till 2020.

It sounds like a disaster but, because the quarry is being dug down into the hill, you wouldn’t know about it till you reached the edge – carefully fenced, I hasten to add. Instead, a trail leads to it and a viewpoint explaining the geology, the workings, and the wildlife.


The rest of the area is beautifully wild but with good paths. We walked Mac there most days.


There are more photos at Picasa.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Haughmond Abbey

P1010417  Haughmond Abbey is just a couple of fields down the hill from out campsite. What we see today are the later buildings – by which I mean from 1135 onwards to the 15th century.

Founded by a group of hermits towards the end of the 11th century, the formal founding of an Augustinian Abbey took place in 1135 and the foundation prospered with the help of wealthy patrons and royal connections.

Like many abbeys and monasteries, Haughmond owned a great deal of land and, acording to the records, owned 26 mills in Shropshire at the end of the 13th century.

P1010397This is not the Abbey described in the Cadfael books. That was a Benedictine Abbey and is in Shrewsbury.


The Abbots Hall (above) must have been rather impressive and certainly shows no financial constraints, being built to impress.

Before the community was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, things had gone downhill. Financial irregularities, novices not receiving proper instruction, a ‘woman of ill repute’ was twice reported as visiting the Abbey, and boys had been found in the dormitories!

The site is in the care of English Heritage nowadays and is a peaceful place to wander and reflect.

More pictures on Picasa

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Haughmond, Shropshire

We’re staying on a small site at Haughmond’s Farm, next to Haughmond Abbey, on the side of Haughmond Hill.



The actual campsite is in an old orchard, surrounded by tall hedges. The apple trees are in bloom, there are birds singing, sheep baaing – you get the picture. We are only 3 miles outside Shrewsbury but it feels deep in the countryside.

I was about to describe the drive down as uneventful but seeing a fox confidently striding across a large field just next to the motorway is certainly an event.

Tuesday morning was spent settling in and erecting our new awning. We bought a very cheap, small one when we first had the caravan but it was too small to be of any use so we have been looking for a new one.

We finally decided on a Swedish Omnistor Caravanstyle. It has three walls that fit onto a canopy so (we hope) giving us the best of both worlds.

Of course, the instructions are just drawings, giving no clue to some of the details so some of the erection was trial and error – a trial of good temper as well! If you have ever bought a flat pack from IKEA, you’ll understand.

In the afternoon we drove round the lanes nearby to orient ourselves and looked for traces of the old Shrewsbury Canal which was dug in the 18th century and was part of the network which served Coalbrookdale.

We’ve visited Haughmond Abbey and several other local places. David and Shirley joined us today (Thursday) and more will follow.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

We’re off again!

We’ve been home for four weeks now and, apart from the Railway Children Anniversary, not much has happened to write about.  It’s been a domestic few weeks, interspersed with progressing other projects, a little socialising and sorting problems.

We have been having outages on our broadband access – several times a day – and finally got frustrated enough to call Virgin Media.  We now have a new router and a new monthly package which is  giving us a faster download speed AND costs a few pounds less than our previous one.  So far (touch wood, cross your fingers) it is working well. 

Of course, installing it was an occasion for head scratching and muttering.  Alan managed it eventually.  Well done!

A nice thick manual was provided, one page of which was in English. While we’re on the subject, why do these tech people assume that us ordinary folk understand their jargon?  Don’t bother to answer.  It’s for the same reason that street signs don’t always make sense – the people who put them up already know the way!

The freezer packed in! We stuffed it with newspaper and phoned a local repair firm. A very reassuring engineer came out and fixed it. Apparently, this model has an occasional fault and the cooling system builds up ice on the vanes, behind the back panel where we couldn’t see it. Much work with a steamer cleared it but I was a little concerned when he told us he gets called out to four or five of this particular model each week.

Once it is cleared, it rarely recurs so I should be thankful, I suppose. If anyone has a Hotpoint FZA80 freezer, take note!

We’re off to Shropshire tomorrow for a couple of weeks, staying at a site near Shrewsbury and hoping to spend some time at Ironbridge and visit several other sites in the area.

This time, we’ve checked on mobile coverage and the site has a good signal so we should be able to get on line easily.  I need to start gathering things together now and get the caravan loaded so I can watch the Monaco Grand Prix.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Czech Mystery

RH drive car

Some years ago, we went to Prague for a few days and visited the Národní technické muzeum v Praze (National Technical Museum in Prague). Among the displays were some beautifully restored classical cars.

But something was wrong. The Czech Republic is a landlocked country situated in the middle of Europe but these cars had right hand steering wheels. They were designed for driving on the left hand side of the road.

Sherlock and Doctor Watson immediately investigated. Little grey cells went into overdrive, Kojak sucked a lollipop – sorry, I got carried away there.

We asked a museum attendant. This was more difficult than it sounds.  Our Czech was limited to the few phrases needed to get around. His English was nearly as non-existent. It took some time, a little German, some pointing at our phrase book, and a lot of gesticulation to get the answer. 

According to him, after the Nazis invaded in 1939, Hitler decreed that Czechoslovakia should drive on the right – NOW!  That made sense and we knew that the same thing had happened in Austria.

There the matter rested till last Saturday when The Guardian published a review of a book about China. To illustrate the book, a picture of the Caiyunba Bridge over the Yangtze was shown, with one, lonely car in view – definitely driving on the left, though China drives on the right. Closer examination (and a flurry of googling) showed that the car was on a slip road and the photo was probably taken in 2007 when the bridge was opened.

That led us back to the Czech issue of changing the flow of traffic from left to right. We discovered an article on Wikipedia which claimed that the Czech government had planned to change to driving on the right‘within a reasonable time’ as early as 1925 and had just not got around to it.  H’mm!  No sources given. In fact the article had a header saying that citations were needed.

More searches revealed quotes from the Wikipedia article, often lifted verbatim (plagiarism is rife on the web) and nothing with authoritative sources.

Short of contacting the Czech Embassy, who may not know as the Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovakia in the period we are talking about, it remains one of the many little niggling mysteries which constantly plague our inquisitive minds.

Unless you know the answer?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Railway Children – Forty Years On

book RC

If there is anyone out there who has not seen the 1970 film, The Railway Children, where have you been for the last forty years? 

Written by Edith Nesbit as a serial for The London magazine in 1905, the book was published in 1906 and the story was adapted for television by the BBC in 1951, 1957 and 1968. The film, directed by Lionel Jeffries, came to the big screen at Christmas 1970 and was a great success. Since then, it has appeared on television on holidays, was produced as a video and then DVD. Now there is a new remastered DVD, produced for the 40th anniversary. I will not linger on the 2000 version of the film as I haven’t seen it and don’t particularly want to. Like countless others, the 1970 film is my version and I am quite satisfied with it.

If you watch it and don’t get a lump in your throat at “Daddy! My Daddy”, you really need to get in touch with your inner child.

The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, where the film was made, staged a celebration during the May Bank Holiday Weekend and re-enacted some of the famous scenes on each day with the help of local actors and, of course, we had to go!

DSCF8732 DSCF8810

It was a strange sensation to see the actors, in their costumes, mingling with the crowds of visitors.DSCF8801 The railway is not far from us so we went on the Saturday, assuming it would be quieter than the Sunday or Monday. Unfortunately, the weatherman decided to aim one of his forecast ‘scattered showers’ right on Oakworth Station after lunch. This developed into a full downpour, mixed with hail, so we retreated home.  Alan went back again on the Sunday and took more photos in better weather.

More pictures at Railway Children Re-enactment and Railway Children 40th

Steam trains, nostalgia, beautiful countryside and people enjoying themselves – perfect.

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