A Tour of the Midlands
A tour of the Midlands in May 1984
2 May 1984
Drove from Sedlescombe to Stoke via the M25 and A5 for the
Great British Holiday Exhibition. Took a
walk in Wicken Wood in Northamptonshire, now Forestry Commission but part of
the old Whittlewood Forest. Just over
the county boundary to the east in Buckinghamshire there is an adjoining
natural area, Leckhampstead Wood, which I also visited: mostly oak, sallow and
Midland thorn and very different from The Weald. Heavy clay with tufts of bright green grass,
few brambles and only a scatter of woodland flowers - primrose, bluebell, wood
anemone. On open banks there were
cowslips, but perhaps introduced. It
could be a fine place for butterflies (years later I found it was a location
for the wood white). On the way out I
saws a small deer grazing in a ride, perhaps a muntjac.
In the sunshine the drive through England could not have
been better. The blackthorn and cherry
blossom were drifting along hedges.
There were daffodils and aubrietia, green gold and mauve, in the
Overnight at the Stakis Grand Hotel (now the Quality Hotel),
Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. A most peculiar
building. My room is a strange
rhomboidal shape. Posh, Northern,
steak-house type restaurant with curt service and transport café food to
accompany all the plush. Good meals seem
only to be larger helpings of what one might regularly have at home.
The following day I took a walk in Hanley Park. Weeping willows and pink cherry blossom. Red brick bandstand and boathouse by the
lake. Students walking to work. By the southern gate there is a blackened
stone, like a small standing stone, with a neatly mown triangle of grass
funnelling up to it. I asked an elderly couple out walking their dog if they
knew what it was. They thought it might
be part of the original gate, but it is difficult to see how. They were quite certain the 'parkies' would
Those smarter terraced houses with a front garden are banked
with aubrietia in places reflecting the castellation of the wall top in
front. Mauve where the sun strikes,
green where there is shade. Otherwise
daffodils and auriculas - a traditional pattern. One heretic had substituted mossy saxifrage
for aubrietia, but it looked defiant and out of place.
I walked for a while along a stretch of the Caldon Canal:
very typical of the old industrial Stoke, a curving reach of shiny khaki water
with buildings of dull, blackened red brick and even two pot banks.
Opposite the entrance to the public library there was a
Spitfire aircraft like a tiger in a cage.
Mike Mitchell, the designer of the plane, was a local man.
Until 3 p.m. at Trentham Gardens where we (the English
Tourist Board) had a holiday exhibition stand.
Opposite a book club with ridiculous numbers of young female staff
without a great deal to do. It was so
quiet I left early and drove across Staffordshire to Newport and Shifnal in
eastern Shropshire, then on to Bridgnorth and Bewdley following the great red
cliffs of the river Severn. It was a
beautiful May evening: hazy sunshine and leafing trees, blossoming orchards and
young green corn. A mysterious and
romantic England. After getting into a
muddle of roads around Abberley Hill in Worcestershire, I crossed into the Teme
Valley which was even more lovely than the Severn. Perfect peaceful English countryside. Well-tended with just a hint of wildness in
the hills and woods. The road near the
west bank of the river from Stanford to Martley was especially fine.
I had a hotel room in Tewkesbury, at a 15th century place
called The Ancient Grudge (the name
refers to the enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster which led to the
Battle of Tewkesbury in the Wars of the Roses in 1471). Venison with black cherries and a wild
strawberry sorbet rounded off the day.
N.B. Upton upon Severn looks an
interesting little town. The church I
thought superb - a slender, perpendicular spire in gold and cream limestone
like a miniature cathedral.
rather spicy sausage that includes cooked rice as well as rusk. Once very popular..