We spent the week in South Shropshire at Goosefoot Barn Cottages – http://www.goosefootbarn.co.uk/welcome.htm – in a hamlet called Pinstones near a village called Diddlesbury not far from Ludlow, Craven Arms and Church Stretton.
The cottages were in a gorgeous unspoilt location but they were infuriating for a couple of reasons. Firstly they were phoney new buildings made to look like old ones, so the ‘beams’ stopped before the end of the ceiling, and the fixtures and fittings were orange pine – or worse, orange pine backed with MDF with pencil scrawls on it. Secondly, despite the fact that they were the most expensive in 5 years of doing this at new year, the signs of budgetness were impossible to ignore. Cheap shiny polyester rugs that wouldn’t stay flat. Polyester bed linen that looked like BHS or Asda, horrible-looking towels, shit pine furniture, plastic carpet, bad lino, thin board walls, monstrous faux fires and awful ornaments. And they had tiny televisions with integrated video (video!). Comfortable, spacious, and warm enough I suppose but more like a cheap new bungalow on the edge of the village and in no way an authentic country retreat. I think it’s pretty cynical of the owners to have olded it up for the web site. Basically these were over-priced and criminally wasted on their owners who managed to spoil somewhere with enormous potential because of their poor taste, poor judgement and cheap mass-produced tat. It’s nearly criminal, actually. City wanker countryside wreckers. Though it was good that they had a laundry room, and the snooker table, darts and table football were good. They also give your organic waste to their pigs, and organise recycling for each cottage.
With that off my chest I can think about how lovely South Shropshire is. Ludlow is impossibly pretty and well-heeled and has I think the largest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the country. Apparently it has 500 listed buildings – http://www.ludlow.org.uk/arch.html – including the wood and render Feathers Hotel whose storeys lurch over each other alarmingly. A lot of local food is produced nearby- cheeses and cider in particular. Much Wenlock was less of the same – but we found a pub which I liked being in more than any in a long time, The George and Dragon – http://www.dinewithus.co.uk/george-and-dragon. I think it was all the old relics on the walls and ceilings. Church Stretton too. Craven Arms doesn’t make you want to stop, nor Bishops Castle.
We walked 8 or 10 miles every day, from the Jarrold Pathfinder Guide number 14. On Saturday we went up Brown Clee Hill to the highest point in Shropshire, pursued and eventually caught by a big rain cloud which drenched us for 3 hours. Fifteen minutes from the end we climbed something big the last few metres of which was steep cropped turf. Brian said he climbed halfway up and slipped all the way down, I dismissed that and set off, lost all purchase, fell to my elbows and knees, and slid in that position, screeching and picking up speed, all the way to the bottom. It was alright despite bad visibility. On Sunday three of us did a walk from Stokesay castle, which was OK. Monday was New Year’s Day and we only walked to the Sun Inn, where Matt had homebrew beer which tasted of malt vinegar, and Brian had one with either oyster mushroom, skin or pipe mould in it. On Tuesday we walked near Ironbridge. The Severn had flooded for the last leg and we spent a lot of time finding ways through fences. Caz and Tom had wellies on which, in combination with a stick, worked well. I had a horrible wet fall when I tried to stand on a log which wasn’t after all resting on the botton, but after that it didn’t matter about avoiding water any more. My boots were dry by the following day when we walked along part of Wenlock Edge. Dull and nothing to report. The best was last – Long Mynd on the Thursday, which was breathtaking. Tom’s nan died while we were up there, and he took a sad phonecall. Close to the end in Church Stretton we came across a tyre swing in the woods.
The nicest meal I had (the only one, really) was at the Crown Inn in Munslow – http://www.crowncountryinn.co.uk. They came up with vegan options for me. There was melba toast with tapenade, herb butter and tomato fondue on the table. My starter was crostini with tomato fondue, and interesting roasted vegetables, drizzled with some kind of balsamic reduction. There were two vegan main course options, a couple of oven-baked mushroom with red onion confit and some toasted crumb topping, and a risotto which I chose, and in which I counted at least 7 varieties of mushroom. The dessert was a poached pair surrounded with caramelised pieces of fruit (banana, apple) which crunched like creme brulee, and winsomely arranged splodges of two types of coulis. The coffee came with petit-fours (not vegan). I told http://www.happycow.net/and http://www.vegetarianguides.co.uk and thanked them by email because I’m used to being at best marginalised at these kinds of places.
My own vegan cooking fared somewhat worse, with an inedible lemon tofu cheesecake at new year. We also had to save the dumplings Matt made for the stew (we had some fried the next day). On New Year’s Eve we played Squeak Piggy Squeak, the balloon game, throwing chocolates into people’s mouths from a distance, steady hand, and some other stuff – it was a good night.
Brian, Matt and I watched DVDs in the small hours most nights – Thumbsucker, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I Heart Huckabees, and The Longest Day on the laptop.
Neil nearly got me into single malt whisky. I forget what his Glenmorangie tasted like because it was entirely eclipsed by Bill’s 15 year-old Laphroaig’s Dettol and tyres. But when I got home I had a Balvenie miniature which I had to abandon because it tasted of vomitty bile.
The hills in South Shropshire are round, lumpy and interesting. Sadly it was too windy to paraglide but we saw the place – Beyond Extreme in Church Stretton – and also passed, on the mountain top, a man with a rigged up aerial who seemed to be talking to the gliders.