One of the many things that the Romans did for us was to leave us with a great many souvenirs of their 400 year occupation of Britain. Some have been discovered and made accessible for visits by those of us who take an interest in such things, others lie beneath the earth awaiting discovery in years to come, and a very few have been discovered and, well ……….. just left!
One such site is Spoonley Wood Roman Villa which sits in the grounds of Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire – about 15 miles from home. Discovered and partially unearthed in the 1870s it’s largely been left for nature to once more reclaim and is sufficiently remote and inaccessible that it now receives very few visitors. In fact you could quite easily walk within yards of the site and never know it was there. Having been alerted to its existance by a mention by Bill Bryson’ book ‘Notes from a Small Island’ we decided to take a look.
The walk from Winchcombe is just over a couple of miles and on a fine day you could probably do the return trip in not much more than two hours – unfortunately, whilst the day we chose was bright and sunny, the ground underfoot was extremely wet and in many places the path (such as it was) was a quagmire. When the mud starts to go over the top of your walking boots you know its wet!
When you eventually get there the site itself is at first a little underwhelming. You can more or less make out the outlines of some of the buidings (partialy reconstructed by enthusiastic Victorians) but the woodland has largely overwhelmed their efforts at conservation and the structures that they erected to protect some of the finds have, in the main part, long since disintegrated. There is, however, one small ‘lean-to’ structure doing its best to protect a small patch of floor and beneath a piece of rather grotty plastic sheeting is ……………….. a wonderful roman mosaic! Lift the sheet and there, covered with mud and definately not looking its best , is a floor that was apparently laid by a Roman workman some 16 or 17 centuries ago. Who said the Romans never did anything for us?
As it happens Pickering is the start point (or end point, depending upon whether you’re coming or going) of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, so it would have been downright rude to have visited this wonderful part of the country without taking a trip to Whitby (and back) on a steam train. One of the (few) good things about the pandemic has been that certain attractions that would normally be crammed with fellow holidaymakers have actually been fairly quiet – so we were able to enjoy our trip down memory lane in relative space and comfort. Unfortunately we weren’t able to say the same about Whitby which was heaving with crowds of visitors, not one of whom seemed to have heard about social distancing or mask wearing. No wonder we’re in the realms of a third (or is it fourth) wave of infections. Still, mustn’t grumble….. that’s the spirit. A quick trip around the abbey (not a vampire to be seen) followed by fish and chips sat on the quayside rounded off the visit before we slowly chugged our way back to Pickering and our little ‘home from home on wheels’. Next stop on our blitzkrieg tour of Yorkshire was Flamborough Head – scene of Thomas Robinson Ewbank’s (my 4 x Gt Grandfather) minor maritime triumph when, in 1805, as skipper of the Sarah and Elizabeth (a Hull based whaler), he saw off a dastardly attack on local shipping by a French privateer. Of course I was surprised and disappointed that there was no plaque to commemorate the event, but this was slightly mollified by being able to watch the resident puffins, gannets and razorbills that inhabit the impressive cliffs in large numbers.
Whilst in the neighbourhood we took the opportunity to visit the lovely house and gardens at Burton Agnes. The walled garden was spectacular, combining fabulous planting with a huge range of fruits and vegetables – and once again the absence of crowds made the visit a real pleasure.
As someone who has a long term interest in his family history, it would have been unthinkable to visit the East Riding without making just a fleeting visit to Hull to dig up (metaphorically, of course) the relatives. I already knew that Spring Bank Cemetery, where a number of my forebears are allegedly resting, was reputed to be in a bit of a state, but the reality still came as a bit of a shock. It’s a massive space in the centre of the city but sadly it clearly hasn’t been maintained at all since it was last used in the early seventies. With trees and bushes covering pretty much the entire area virtually all of the grave stones are broken or have fallen over – in fact this would have been a much better place than Whitby for Bram Stoker to have made Dracula’s home. By some miracle we stumbled over the last resting place of Thomas Steel and Harriet Ewbank but I don’t doubt that in a year or two’s time that too will have been lost to nature. Shame on Hull City Council (or whoever’s responsible) for allowing a graveyard to fall into such a state. Rant over.
In point of fact we didn’t start our latest ‘adventure’ at the seaside – that comes a little further down the page. This time the start point of our ‘vanathon’ has brought us to ‘God’s country’, home of the Yorkshire Pudding, Yorkshire Tea (I’ve never really understood that one) and Matthewson’s Classic Car Auctions.
Now, as everyone knows, I’m a man of iron will and the proven ability to resist any temptation – except when it comes to car buying. So before visiting the hallowed home of ‘Bangers and Cash’ I had to make a binding promise to myself to keep my bidding arm firmly by my side. As it turned out I needn’t have bothered as all the bidding for their July auction was online and anyway there was virtually nothing on offer to lead me into temptation ….that’s if you discount a brace of well-constructed Batmobiles and around three hundred other likely candidates for the Ewbank stable. In any event it was an interesting visit and we managed to get away with no purchases – not even a mug featuring that great truism “There’s Dad’s Way, and then there’s Dad’s Way”.
I’m sure there must be an unwritten law somewhere that you can’t visit East Yorkshire without visiting the seaside. That said, even with the new E-bike I think that I’d have found cycling from Pickering to Scarborough a bit of a test – and just how Denise would have kept up without the benefit of electrical assistance is anybody’s guess. Fortunately, we were able to take the bus from just outside our campsite via Malton all the way to Scarborough and enjoy seeing this part of the lovely Yorkshire Wolds from the upper deck. Once in the town, a walk along the beach to see the donkeys was followed by a quick paddle in the briny and we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins playing in the bay.
The promenade itself has lost much of its Victorian splendour, and I’m not sure that my grandmother and father, who lived here for a while in the 20s and 30s would recognise much, but once you get away from the seafront the town still has lots of charm and the castle that overlooks the town and dominates the coastline is well worth a visit.
It’s occurred to me that, notwithstanding its title, this blog has been lamentably short on Triumph material of late – so I thought that I’d provide a quick summary of recent progress (or lack of it) with our four cars which, by the way, now have a combined age of 206 years!
As the most recent member of the family/fleet the Herald has had the lion’s share of attention over the past couple of years and is now, at last, approaching completion. The cancellation of Classic Le Mans for the past couple of years provided a convenient breathing space (and excuse) for taking the final stages of the rebuild quite slowly, but with the rebuild of the overdrive completed (thank you Eric) and the replacement seats (from an MX5) installed, the car was finally ready for a new hood to be fitted by Cliff Griffiths. It now looks the business and just needs a bit of fettling to make it completely ‘match fit’.
Towards the end of last year the GT6 and Stag moved barns and unfortunately attracted the attention of the local rodent population. This provided the incentive for me to bring them back to the house (the cars, not the mice) – which in turn has made it easier for me to get to grips with their maintenance and repair. Over the past couple of months I’ve rebuilt the Stag’s front suspension and fitted the two new exhaust boxes that I bought a little while back. While spending some time under the car I couldn’t help but notice a couple of bodywork problems and as I write the car is spending a couple of days in the body shop having those sorted. With that done I need to get to grips with the hood frame with the aim of getting Cliff to fit a new hood later in the year.
Despite having a brain the size of a planet I’ve been known to do some stupid things from time to time. Whilst working on the GT6 engine a couple of months ago I allowed the bonnet to drop from a great height, with the inevitable result that several small dents will need to be repaired and the bonnet resprayed. That done my intention is to sell the car – partly because it isn’t getting enough use, and partly because it’s so low that I now have trouble getting in and out!
Finally, the TR3A continues to provide great fun whilst needing little or no work other than routine maintenance (famous last words!). An oil change and coolant flush will be due shortly and we may consider selling it later this year or early next to provide funds for something slightly more civilized or exotic!
The trouble with keeping an ‘occasional’ blog is not knowing what to include and how often it should be updated; I have a tendency to miss some notable experiences or events completely, and then to spend too much time (too many words) describing things that I’ll look back on later and wonder ‘why on earth did I write about that?’.
Anyway, having failed at the time to capture the remainder of our latest trip ‘ooop north’ I thought that I’d better do a quick catch-up before we set off again on our travels.
For our last full day in the Lakes we were fortunate to enjoy a sunny day for our boat trip down Windermere, which provided great views of some of the lovely, and no doubt extremely expensive, houses lining its eastern shore. Leaving Cumbria we drove the sixty or so miles south to visit Cleve and Claire Forty in their new (to them) home on the West Pennine Moors above Bolton – an area of open moorland and numerous reservoirs that neither of us had previously explored. It was good to catch up with old friends, enjoy their generous hospitality and to hear their exciting plans for their new home – good luck with that!
One of the reasons for visiting Lancashire (which as most Yorkshiremen know is unfortunately on the wrong side of the Pennines) was to become better acquainted with the area surrounding Ormskirk where many of my mother’s ancestors hailed from. We managed to pick a nice little campsite just outside Burscough about half a mile from the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, which is vastly more attractive than the name suggests. The towpath provided an excellent cycle path to some of the surrounding villages so once again we were able to spend several ‘happy’ hours wandering through local churchyards visiting long dead relatives!
I suppose the clue’s in the name. If you visit a place that’s renowned for its lakes, rivers and lush green scenery you can probably expect to get the odd drop of rain from time to time – so for the last few days leading up to this trip we’ve been watching the weather forecast and hoping that the recent run of dreadful weather (apparently the wettest May on record) would come to an end. It was a bit of an inauspicious start as we motored our way up the M5/M6 between torrential downpours interspersed with short periods of brilliant sunshine, but our arrival in Hawkshead coincided with a break in the clouds and we were able to sit outside a local pub and enjoy a pint. As it was the first time we’d been able to do so for about 18 months it tasted especially good.
Hawkshead sits (or ‘nestles’ as they say in the guidebooks) midway between Windermere and Coniston Water and is an especially pretty little village with what appears to have one of the highest concentrations of pubs in the land. Its other claim to fame is the little known (unless, of course, you happen to live or work here) fact that it’s where William Wordsworth went to school – there, now you know it too!
Yesterday (Tuesday) morning we met James and Esther Brown and their children for a quick coffee before they had to high-tail it back home at the end of their short holiday break – by coincidence they happened to be visiting the area for a few days so the opportunity for a quick catch up was too good to miss. In the afternoon we risked the elements and walked about five miles up to Outgate and around Blelham Tarn which provided some nice views of the surrounding countryside and across to the mountains in the northern lakes.
This morning started with the usual and predictable downpour, but once the skies cleared we managed a walk in the other direction through Hawkshead and up towards Esthwaite Water which, after a bit of a climb, took us through a large area of Forestry Commission land before providing us with some more nice views and great scenery. This afternoon was an opportunity for some R&R followed by the usual French and Spanish lessons courtesy of DuoLingo – are we creatures of habit, or what?
Our (my) close encounter with a Portuguese wall during our 2019 travels left the van with a few wounds that needing tending. Unfortunately these dragged on while spares were sourced from Germany and ultimately meant that we didn’t get to use it again last year. Then the arrival of the pandemic in early Spring and subsequent lockdown kept us at home for the early summer before the return of the family from Germany meant that we were happy to stay home until August had come and gone.
Come September, however, and it was time to get back out on the road and see whether the British weather would hold out long enough for a few short trips away.
A three day trip to North Wales provided us with an opportunity to make a flying visit to the family in Bramhall before we headed out to Aberafon on the Llyn Peninsular for a couple of nights. The first evening was an interesting experience with 50+ mph winds and driving rain, but the following day brought some welcome sunshine and we enjoyed a nice walk to the tiny harbour at Trefor.
The next day we headed back along the coast, stopping briefly to do a bit of family history research at Rhuddlan and taking in Carmarthen and Conwy along the way. An overnight stop at Ruthin on the edge of the Clwydian range of hills took us into an area that we hadn’t previously visited and ended a short but enjoyable break away from home.
For our second trip we’d planned to visit the Devon coast but it seemed that everybody had the same idea and we struggled to find a decent campsite close by the sea that had space, so we eventually settled on a three day stay at the Dart Valley Country Park on the southern edge of the Dartmoor National Park near Buckfast Abbey. On the way we stopped briefly for an icecream at the lovely little seaside town of Teignmouth which looks as though it will be worth a longer visit some time in the future. One spectacle we hadn’t expected to see was the plethora (fleet?) of cruise liners at anchor out in the bay – one has to wonder when anyone will want to be cooped up on-board ship in close proximity to thousands of others? Not for me, thanks.
Yesterday we cycled the few miles across to Buckfast Abbey which is a lovely site and a remarkable achievement for the community of Benedictine monks who spent thirty odd years building it.
Around this time of year we should be getting the Triumphs on the road, visiting some of our local car shows and preparing for trips to Spa, Le Mans and the like. Sadly, this year the longest journey they’ve taken is from the local barn, where the GT6 and Stag are stored, back to the house.
At this time in April the classic car fraternity usually celebrates ‘Drive It Day’ so this time, as we’re all locked down, we’re celebrating ‘On Your Drive Day’ – this is our substitute for our planned trip to France – we’re calling is ‘The Arc Des Triumphs’.
We’ve just returned from spending a few lovely days with the ‘Ewbanks of Nurnberg’ on what seems quite likely to have been our last trip to the Continent as true members of the European Community. In years to come I’m quite sure that we’ll look back on this time and wonder to ourselves just how we (as a country) could have been so very stupid and short-sighted. Still, nothing especially new there …. as a nation we seem to be experts at the stupid and short-sighted.
Germany is remarkable. Whilst we should of course be wary of spending too much time looking back over our shoulders, you do have to wonder how over the past 70 years they’ve pulled themselves up by their collective bootstraps to become a rich and confident nation whilst Britain has become a faded, bitter and introspective laughing stock. Still, mustn’t grumble eh? That’s the spirit ….
It was great to be able to spend some time with the family and to see the twins getting stronger whilst Gretel develops into a bright and lively (to say nothing of determined) young lady. No doubt they’ll all have a few more challenges along the way but at least Richard and Collette have a chance now to look up and see some light at the end of the tunnel – without wondering whether its a train approaching.
Nurnberg looked at its very best amongst the Christkindel celebrations and it was good to see large numbers of visitors enjoying Europe at its best. Not like …… still, better not start that again.
Our recent visit to the family in Nurnberg just happened to coincide with the Christkindlesmarkt which is both a bad thing and a good thing. On the one hand the city is full and so accommodation is at a premium, and on the other hand it’s a perfect excuse for drinking gluhwein and eating bratwurst!
Our apartment was in the city centre, which isn’t really the sort of place you’d expect to find riding stables, but these two intrepid riders managed to catch a quick ride on a passing pony!
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a look at our family history