Daily Prompt: Local Flavour

This is my introduction to Ludlow, which was where I lived from 2011 to 2016. The name Ludlow comes from ‘lud’ the loud waters and ‘low’ a tumulus. If you were to ‘Google’ Ludlow you would find that it is the largest town in south Shropshire and has over 500 listed buildings. You may also discover that it is known as one of the best ‘foodie’ towns in the UK with regular open-air markets, local produce markets and both a Spring and Autumn food festival lasting over the weekend

Ludlow has been described as the “perfect English town”. It is situated on the River Teme in the southernmost part of Shropshire, on the Welsh Marches. It has a medieval street pattern and many ancient buildings including a castle and a magnificent parish church as well as streets lined with medieval and Georgian properties.

” The secret of Ludlow resides in the fact that, like York, it was once a seat of government in Tudor and Stewart England. A sense of its own identity and importance has never quite left it. That accounts for its strength of character and the lingering sense of authority. This is a town which, although the tide of history has receded from it, still manages to preside magisterially over the countryside one glimpses at the end of every street. ” – Sir Roy Strong

The natural starting point for a stroll around the town would be the Castle Square where the market is held several days a week and on the second or fourth Thursday of the month when the local produce market is held you can load up with local cheeses, meats, real ales from micro-breweries, bottles of home-made chutneys and preserves, soaps and even fresh herbs if you so desire. It is a traditional open-air market with 20-30 stalls selling produce from within a 30 mile radius of Ludlow.

From here you can visit the castle. It is a ruin, but quite an interesting one, and it dominates the skyline from the river side of the town. It has a combination of architecture from Norman, Medieval and Tudor times. Parts date from the 11th century when built by Walter de Lacy. It was enlarged by Roger Mortimer in the 14th century and has been in the hands of the Earls of Powis since 1811. The castle was a seat of government for Wales for a time and it was involved in the Wars of the Roses with a major battle taking place at Ludford Bridge. Often events are held in the castle such as the Christmas Medieval Fayre (late November) and the Ludlow Festival held in the summer which features an open-air production of Shakespeare.

After visiting the castle, we’ll wander along the track around the castle and down to the Dinham Bridge and Millennium Green, where you can have a spot of lunch at the Green Café before feeding the ducks or swans and watch the children play on “Ludlow beach” a strip of shingle which is very popular for paddling on a warm day. Here is the Castle Weir where leaping salmon can be seen during the run in October/November each year to reach upstream spawning grounds and don’t forget to look at the restored Water Wheel which generates electricity for the building. As well as ducks crowding the river you can see the occasional heron, swans and even a kingfisher.

Next walk over the bridge, stopping to take a classic photo or two of the castle and the river, before choosing whether to head up to Whitcliffe Common via the Donkey Steps (once part of the packhorse route moving iron-ore through the county); right along a quiet road into the countryside; or left along the Breadwalk which stays close to the river and leads to Ludford Bridge. The Breadwalk was so named after being rebuilt in 1886 following a devastating flood in the town. The unemployed men, grateful for some work, were paid by Lord Clive in bread and blankets – a hard-hearted Victorian form of unemployment relief. It was first known as ‘The Bread and Blanket Walk’.

woodland walk - packhorse steps

As you are a first-time visitor we’ll head up through the mixture of deciduous woodland and onto the grass common of Whitcliffe with its wild-flower meadows where you have the best views over the old town with the Clee Hill in the background. Sit a while on one of the conveniently placed benches and relax. There are also two sites of scientific interest on the Common– Teme Bank (The Ludlow Bone Beds are famous for exposures of Silurian strata with deposits of marine life forming beds as the sea retreated from the area) and the Long Trenches. It is likely that they were dug by the parliamentarians during the siege of Ludlow in 1646. Keep a look out for the Hawfinches which feed on the Hornbeam trees.

We can now head back down to the Breadwalk and continue along the river to Ludford, the site of the ‘Battle of Ludford Bridge’ on 12 October 1459 in the early years of the Wars of the Roses. If you want to pause for refreshment before tackling the last hill then the Charlton Arms can offer a series of comfortable terraces from which to enjoy views of the river and towards the town. If you head downstairs you can visit a room with a collection of the Shakespeare posters by Ludlovian artist Polly Hamilton from past productions of the summer festival at the castle.

Take a short detour across the road where St Giles Church and Ludford House (once a leper hospital) turn their backs to the road with the old Job Charlton almshouses skulking at the side of the road to the church. The polygonal lodge cottage served as a toll house for the main Worcester road until 1836. One of my favourite quiet spots is along the lane past the Old Bell House, once a coaching inn, and through the kissing gate onto a field which is forever changing crops from wheat to rape, and with two very photogenic trees. Ludford is a delightful area and often missed by visitors.

Retracing our steps we’ll cross over the Ludford Bridge, with a glance at the Horseshoe Weir, the third weir on the Teme in Ludlow, where you always find ducks and if you’re lucky a heron, then we’ll walk up Lower Broad Street, the centre of cloth working in the Middle Ages, towards the sole surviving gate through the old town walls. This road has lots of lovely cottages on the left-hand side with large displays of flora in numerous containers, and several shuts leading to private hidden gardens; very pretty. Next to the Broad Gate we pass by the Wheatsheaf Inn which is the best place for a Sunday carvery and they do a pretty mean mixed grill and steak and ale pie too.

Climb up the hill on Broad Street which is one of Ludlow’s widest streets and lined with large Georgian fronted houses (some of which have medieval buildings behind the façade) passing the Methodist Chapel on the left opposite the house belonging to Marmaduke Gwyn, the father-in-law of Charles Wesley, the Angel, a former coaching inn, and de Grey’s tea room and bakery on the right where you can have a very fine English high tea.Finally at the top of the street is the Buttercross built in 1744 and formerly a butter market.

If you turn left here along Market Street you will find yourself back in the Castle Square where we began the walk.

Thanks to the Daily Post for giving me the opportunity to “Write a piece about a typically “local” experience from where you come from as though it’s an entry in a travel guide.” I hope you like it 🙂

Note: Sadly De Greys tearoom closed at the end of January 2014, but there are several other independent cafés and tearooms in Ludlow – try Emporos in the Bull Ring (go through Attorney’s Walk one of Shropshire’s Shuts).

Walking the Right Bank Passages in Paris

I had come across references to “Les Passages” in a Paris guidebook and decided to take a closer look at them during my last visit to “The City of Light”. So on a very wet and chilly spring day I set off on my Passages Walk. Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Right Bank included a network of 140 covered passageways – the fashionable shopping arcades of the time. In a city without sewers, pavements or sheltered walkways, these arcades allowed shoppers to stroll from one boutique to another protected from the filth of the city streets. Today there are fewer than 30 left, some well-preserved with their original mosaic floors and neoclassical decoration. It was time to check them out and find out what it was like living in 19th century Paris.

Galerie du Passage Véro DodatStarting from the Metro station Palais-Royal I headed east on Rue Saint-Honoré towards Place Colette and then turned left into Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau to enter the Galerie du Passage Véro Dodat. This is one of the prettiest and oldest passages, built in 1823. It has mahogany panelling and an old-fashioned floor of chequered black and white tiles, Corinthian columns and gas globe fittings (which have been converted to electricity). There are 38 identical boutiques with narrow arched windows surrounded by gilt edging including the beautiful window display of musical instruments in Luthier. Don’t forget to look up at the ceiling either as you will be rewarded with beautiful gilt framed 19th century murals.

metro comedie francaisRetracing my steps towards the Louvre I took a detour through the Louvre des Antiquaires as it had started to rain heavily. It is a most extraordinary store of antiquities on three levels, with goods ranging from Eastern carpets to Baccarat crystal and delicate Sevres tea sets to incredibly ornate porcelain decorated grand pianos. A very interesting complex to while a way a few rainy hours, but definitely not a place to take children! Being a little too expensive for my pockets (and anyway, where would I put that enormous baby grand?) I exited onto Place Colette and retraced my steps towards the Comedie-Francaise (interesting metro design) next to the Palais-Royal with its Revolutionary history (another story entirely) and entered the Jardin du Palais Royal where elegant 18th century arcades (1786) surround a very peaceful garden. Although not strictly passageways they are considered to be the prototype of what was to come. Continue reading Walking the Right Bank Passages in Paris

Strolling around the Île de la Cité

I once read somewhere that “life is too short not to go to Paris as often as one can” but must admit to not having adhered to that having only been there three times in my life. The “City of Lights” or “La Ville-Lumière” as it was then called, comes from the fact that Paris was the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and it was famous as a centre of education and ideas throughout Europe. The city’s early adoption of street lighting probably also contributed to its “City of Lights” tag.

Le quai des Grands-Augustins depuis le Pont-Neuf

My previous visit had been during the dull days between Christmas and New Year when everything seems flat. Leaving London Waterloo on Boxing Day seemed like a good idea at the time. Paris put on her usual glittering party frock and despite the bitter cold and wet weather the OH and I enjoyed a few days walking along the banks of the River Seine and exploring the usual tourist sites that we had both seen (though not together) in our late teens; eating expensive steaks and drinking expensive wine and taking rather bad photos (I blame the weather – too damn cold to take off the gloves)

Café EsmeraldaSo in 2010 when the opportunity to spend five days in Paris in early spring arose it was not to be sniffed at. Once again we took the Eurostar (this time from its new terminal in St Pancras station) to ‘gay Paree‘, hoping for a somewhat warmer welcome. As the OH was to be “au conference” pretty much the whole time it gave me an excuse to wander aimlessly and have a look at the hidden parts of Paris. There is nothing better for me than to venture into districts I have not been in and to look more closely at those I had. So armed with a good map, several metro tickets, camera and notebook, off I went to explore. Continue reading Strolling around the Île de la Cité

sLOVEnia – then and now

I step out of the bus into the bright light and look around. In front of me is the railway station; a good example of Austro-Hungarian architectural style. Across the busy dual carriageway is a tree-lined park with minor streets and avenues leading to the old city centre. Nothing looks familiar: I look around hoping that some kind of recognition will take place, but I have no memory of this place – neither the station nor any of the streets.

Ljubljana Railway

Usually when I return to a city my memory clicks into place as smoothly as a child’s jigsaw puzzle. Not today though. I sigh. The smells are all wrong, the noises are wrong and the colours are definitely wrong. As the sun burns down on my skin and the noise of the buses and cars fill my ears I remember the last time I stood in this spot…

I stepped out of the lorry and into the gloom of a wet late autumn afternoon. The driver clasped my hand, grinned and bid us goodbye. A part of me was relieved to have reached this little border town of Ljubljana in northern Yugoslavia. The journey through the Austrian Alps with its hairpin bends in torrential sleet and rain, was not the most relaxing, but as the heavy rain ran down the back of my neck and soaked through the shoulders of my jacket I craved the warmth of the cab. We headed to the information booth inside the railway station to try to find a room to stay the night. Camping was definitely out of the question.

Doorway

A grey-haired woman in the booth gave us directions to a house nearby with a room to let. When we reached the address we looked up at the multi-storey building in dismay. Its concrete façade was black in the rain and the huge solid door seemed quite forbidding. Jon raised the heavy brass knocker shaped like a fish and let it fall. The noise was like a gunshot and startled me. After an interminable while we heard the sound of a key being turned in the lock and the door slowly opened. A diminutive grey-haired woman dressed in black stood before us, unsmiling. We asked her about a room for the night, speaking hesitantly in German and miming laying our heads on a pillow. A brief movement of her head indicated for us to step inside. As we stood dripping onto the tiled hallway floor we heard her locking the door behind us. I shivered: this did not feel good.

The woman beckoned us to follow her up the wide staircase with intricate wrought-iron balustrades to the second floor where she unlocked a drab brown door and waved us inside. The room was huge with high ceilings and a large sash window on one wall. Despite the size of the window the room was very gloomy mainly due to the still falling rain, but also the furnishings – a very large old-fashioned dark brown wardrobe dominated the main wall, twin metal beds with thin brown blankets faced the window, with a small worn rug between them on the brown linoleum floor. The only decoration was a dull painting of a castle in dark browns and greys in a dark wooden frame. My heart sank – but at least it was dry – and cheap.

Not wanting to go back out into the storm, we heated some soup on our little gas stove glad of the warmth it gave out and then climbed into our sleeping bags to keep warm. It was not a great night for sleeping. The rain lashed down onto the windows, which rattled in their sashes. The beds were hard and uncomfortable and someone in the next room had a hacking cough. Eventually an overcast dawn broke through the darkness and we could get up and get on our way. The rain had stopped and a watery sun attempted to shine, but the wind was blowing from the Alps and was tinged with snow. Standing at the side of the main road to Belgrade we shivered in this grey unwelcoming communist country…

Then was October 1973 and we never did get that lift. By mid afternoon we abandoned our vigil and returned to the station to get a train through to the capital city of Belgrade and on into sunny Greece. Neither of us wanted to spend another damp, cold night in Ljubljana.

cafe culture

Now is June 2012: a cloudless azure blue sky, the sun caressing my skin and the light so bright it makes my eyes hurt. Walking into the centre of the city I find it to be filled with charming cobbled squares, baroque churches and brightly decorated art nouveau architecture. It is vibrant with pavement cafés lining the riverside and young people sit and drink their coffee and beer. A lot has changed in this region in the intervening years – Yugoslavia is no more and Ljubljana is now the young capital city of Slovenia and even the station got a face-lift in 1980 and the only grey-haired lady appears to be me!

Life is cheap in Africa

Born into the family of a civil servant in the affluent suburbs of Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia he was a middle child and as such suffered from middle child syndrome. Squeezed in the middle unsure of his niche in the world, he became a loner.  As a young man he was drafted into the artillery in the Rhodesian army where he learned that having a beer or three helped him overcome his shyness. He was once chased by an angry hippo and had to hide in a tree until it forgot about him. He never knew before how fast a hippo could move. He rolled his first car and arrived bloody and disorientated on the doorstep of a young white woman who probably saved his life. He gained a third eye.

Drifting south from his land-locked country he found himself in Cape Town where he had not one, but two oceans to play in. He learned to sail. He dreamed of taking his boat, the Jenny Wren, across the Atlantic to South America in the Cape to Rio race.  He was a romantic dreamer.

He married in haste and divorced just as quickly. He started a new love affair with cheap red wine and a young abandoned mother. He had a brief sojourn to Europe where he soaked up the history of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but was less impressed with the Britons. He missed the warmth of the African sun on his face and returned with a new wife and child. His return to South Africa coincided with Mugabe being given his country through the Lancaster House Agreement. His country changed its name and the place where he was born no longer existed.

A few years later Mugabe took away his birthright and he became very bitter about the loss of his beautiful country. His manic drinking consumed his life and slowly, but surely, his friendships died. He hit a blue period and the bottle took away his job, his wife and his children. He almost sank without a trace, but fate wasn’t ready to release him yet.

With nothing left he abandoned the coast and retreated to a  family farm close to his elderly parents and tried to restore his fragile health by meditating under the fragrant orange trees and reading tomes about alternative religions. Sipping gins on the terrace he cast aside his other dreams and headed once more for the city of gold, though there was nothing particularly golden about his life there. Work filled his day and most of his nights as he battled with depression and the meaning of life.

The local township inched closer and closer to his boundaries with marauding bandits breaking in to his house – again and again. Disturbing one such person he was shot in the lung whilst giving chase. An inch away from puncturing his heart. With the surviving lung he dragged his lifeline out of the corridors of the hospital to have a cigarette, even though this resulted in a paroxysm of coughing.

By now the drinking had stopped. He had realised that there was no future in the bottom of a bottle, if indeed he had a future at all. Smoking was much harder to give up and with only one lung, breathing. not to mention life, was becoming a struggle. In the country everything rose – bills, food, petrol, crime. Everything that is except for his salary.

Then on a late summer’s evening whilst in the kitchen feeding his beloved Ridgebacks, something good to come out of Rhodesia, his luck finally ran out. A round of bullets sprayed through the window hitting him in the chest and killing one dog outright. He slumped to the floor, bleeding profusely and fumbled for his phone to call a neighbour for help.

As he lay dying beside one fatally wounded dog and the other one injured, he watched the rest of his life slowly leak away across the kitchen floor, helpless and alone. He was fifty-six.

They took his phone, his computer and a small amount of cash.

Life is cheap in Africa.

R.I.P. my anti-hero who died 28 February 2006.