Staffordshire in September 2021

The Club site at High Onn in Staffordshire was fully booked for the Friday of the August Bank Holiday weekend, so to get a period of ten days, I had to delay my departure. I thought the quietest day for travel would be on the Sunday of the Holiday weekend, and so I was ready to set off by eight o’clock. Within ten miles, I’d reached Junction 10 of the M25, and although the motorway was busy, I got to the turn for the M40 without meeting any congestion. At 80 miles into the journey, I took a coffee break at Cherwell Valley Services. Here, there is a 200 yard lay-by alongside the HGV park signed especially for caravans. Back on the road, my route followed the M40-north, then the M42, across to the M5, then the M6 to the A5 exit. The 175 mile journey was completed with just the one stop making my arrival at High Onn around 12.30. At reception I was told there’d been an exodus that morning so there was a good choice of pitches. By lunchtime on the Monday Bank Holiday, even more outfits had left, so that once the weekend was over, the site was less than half-full. And as some of the caravans were seasonal caravans, the site was even less busy than it appeared.

Pitch No45 at High Onn

High Onn is situated in the midst of farming country served by a network of narrow lanes. The nearest villages are more than two miles away with only scattered farms and isolated cottages being the nearest neighbours. All of which makes the local lanes ideal for cycling and walking. The Shropshire Union canal is close by with a towpath accessible from the road bridges. In spite of the area’s isolation, it’s less than seven miles (as the crow flies) from the roar of the M6 motorway. High Onn is one of the Club’s smaller sites containing 60 or so pitches with 45 of them being large enough to take an awning. Many of them are on hard standing. The site is served by three service points, but there is no toilet block.

During the second world war, an airfield was built nearby, so standing in some of the surrounding fields are abandoned concrete and corrugated buildings some of which are still used by the farms. Even on the site, there are some large areas of concrete slab which may be dated from the war period. Also in the local churchyard are WGC plots.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

For the Monday I’d made an online booking for the English Heritage owned Boscobel House, which is only a six mile drive from the site. I arrived just as it was opening.

Boscobel House from the main entrance

Boscobel House was built by John Giffard, a local landowner. Dendrochronology indicates that the earliest part of the house was built around1595. The entire family were devout Catholics and remained so even after the reformation. Catholicism was, in Tudor times regarded as a criminal offence, often punishable by death.

A Priest Hole in the house.
A finely carved wooden trunk in one of the Bedrooms

In 1650 Charles II returned to Scotland from exile abroad to rally support in his attempt to take back his father’s crown. He raised an army of supporters, but was defeated by Parliamentarian forces at the Battle of Worcester in September of 1651. After the battle, Charles escaped and his companions suggested that Boscobel could be used as a hiding place. According to local history, Charles spent the first night hiding in an oak tree situated close to the house. Next day he was installed in a secret space built within the house.

From Boscobel, I drove the short distance to the ruins of White Ladies Priory. The Priory was a small convent founded in the 12th Century by a group of Augustinian nuns. Its close proximity to the Welsh border and the constant threat of raids, ensured that it never became wealthy or a place of pilgrimage. Even so, at the time of the Dissolution, all the property was seized with the buildings being sold.

The ruins of White Lady’s Priory

I returned to the caravan in time for a late lunch and rest, then I unloaded my bike and set off around the lovely local roads on a circular route to discover the nearby Worcester Union Canal.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Since I had three visits planned for today, I needed to make an early start, so I had lunch packed and was ready to leave the site by 8.45. Fortunately only one venue needed to be booked as a timed slot, in advance online. From the site I drove along the A5 in the direction of Lichfield and made my first stop at the village of Wall. In Roman times Letocetum was an important staging post on Watling Street, one of the Roman’s network of roads throughout the Country. At staging posts such as the one here, Roman officials and messengers could find lodging for the night and a change of horses. Today, most of the exposed ruins are those of the public bath houses.

The foundations of the Roman Bath Houses

From Wall, I set off in a North-easterly direction for my 10am booking at the National Memorial Arboretum. Fortunately, I had my mobility scooter in the back of the car which enabled me to cover some of the miles of pathways around the huge estate. The centre-piece is the memorial for all the service personnel who have given their lives since the end of the second world war.

The Memorial for all those who have given their lives since the end of WW2.

The columns of names stretch into thousands. Scattered around the site, in small groves of trees, are Regimental memorials and other long-gone Regiments, having been amalgamated with others into new army groups.

A memorial to the Paratroopers who have lost their lives

Hundreds of trees have been planted by families on behalf of a lost loved one. One pathetic plaque I read was for a boy killed in Flanders in 1915 aged just 16 years old. I stopped by another memorial which was represented by hundreds of posts planted in the ground. Each post commemorates one of the poor, shell-shocked individuals who were “shot at dawn”.

Each post represents a soldier who was shot for “cowardice”

By 12.30 I found a secluded grotto, lit by some weak sunshine, so I sat on a bench and enjoyed a picnic lunch. Soon after, I returned to the car and headed off on my next visit in Lichfield. I found a parking spot in the Cathedral Close. Just across the road from where I’d parked was the garden entrance to the house where Erasmus Darwin, the grand-father of the more famous Charles Darwin lived – although Charles Darwin was not born until after the death of Erasmus.

The Herb Garden at Darwin House

Erasmus, besides being a physician and scientist, was also an inventor, having invented a steering mechanism used on horse drawn carriages. His invention was also incorporated into car steering 100 years later.

It was only a short walk from the house into the Cathedral precincts.

The exterior & the Choir of Lichfield Cathedral

The Cathedral was open to visitors with directions to follow the one-way system. Cathedrals have stood on this spot since 700AD but the present building dates from the 13th Century. Because the precincts were built within a strong surrounding wall, in the 1600s it became a defensive position, first by the Royalist army, then by the Roundheads, and yet again by the Royalists, followed by the final capture by the Roundheads. Consequently, much damage was done to the Cathedral and the nearby properties.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Today’s visit was only a short drive away but it did have to be booked in advance online.

Entry was free – however a parking fee of £5 needed to be paid in advance. My visit was to the Museum at RAF Cosford. Dozens of aircraft are on display – some outside

but most of them in huge hangers.

In addition to aircraft, there is a display of missiles and another with battle tanks and other tracked vehicles. There are cockpits which can be sat in and various simulators to be tried however, with Covid still very much active, I thought it best to give such attractions a miss.

After a late lunch back in the caravan, I got out the bike and set off on a circular ride around the local roads. Unfortunately I ended up getting lost and by the time I’d checked my phone Ap and retraced my route, I ended up doing a very exhausting 12+ miles.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

I wanted to visit the Red House Farm and Owl sanctuary today. The map showed it to be not many miles from the site, so I decided to go on the bike. It was a pleasant ride along quiet, narrow roads. The farm is laid out with paths separating the paddocks in which there are rare breed animals. As I wandered around I came across a Shire horse, some rare bread sheep, chickens and alpacas.

In another garden area are cages containing owls and other birds of prey. .By the time I was back at the caravan, I had ridden ten miles, and was ready for a late lunch and a leisurely afternoon.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Today’s visit was one which needed to be booked as a timed slot, and in advance via the internet. Which was unfortunate because the day turned out to be not the best of days for an outside visit. My destination was the Black Country Open Air Museum. Currently, large areas are cordoned off because of ongoing building work. At one end of the site are workshops containing a variety of vintage motor cars and motor bikes.

Next door is another garage containing trams and trolley buses. Along the road, past the coal-mine and across the canal is a small town made up of Victorian shops and houses all of which are open to walk through.

Outside the chapel, a speech was being delivered by a politician who was being barracked by some members of the crowd. Altogether, an interesting visit – however, for a family of four, having paid £60-odd entry fee, it’s a bit much to have to pay £3.50 more to open the exit barrier in the car-park.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

It was Saturday and some shopping was called for, so I decided on an early visit to the Asda at Telford. With shopping done and diesel tank refilled, I was back, with shopping put away by coffee-time. I spent the rest of the morning sitting out with my latest Ken Follett enjoying one of the few sunny spells there’s been this holiday – but that’s not a grumble, because there’s also been no rain.

After lunch, I got out the bike and rode the country lanes around the canal area. By the time I was back and ready for a cuppa, I’d covered 9.5 miles.

View from a Canal Bridge

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

What a beautiful day! My online booking at Blist’s Hill Victorian Town was timed for ten o’clock, but before then, I wanted to stop in the Ironbridge Gorge to see the Bridge.

The River Severn at Ironbridge.
The view along the River from the Bridge

The Ironbridge which gives the village its name was cast in iron by Abraham Darby, one of the area’s Iron Masters in 1779. Today, the Gorge is a beautiful tranquil area with the River Severn flowing through it. But not so during the Industrial Revolution. Then it was an area of dirt, smoke and industrial activity because the whole gorge, with a filthy river flowing through it was full of mines producing coal, iron ore and china clay, and the smelting of iron and the burning of coal. Darby’s idea was that a bridge cast in sections would be unique and would stand as an example to the rest of the world. And so it was.

Darby’s Bridge

The bridge reaches across the river for a 100 feet and when built cost £6000. Visitors came from all over the world to wonder at this new invention. Darby quickly saw an opportunity and together with friends, built the hotel at the end of the bridge. He aptly named it the Tontine Hotel. A ‘tontine’ is a 17th Century financial agreement drawn up to pay investors a yearly income. The bridge together with the toll-house is now in the care of English Heritage.

From Ironbridge, I drove up the hill for a few miles to reach the site of the Victorian Town. Although the canal and the blast furnaces are in their original places, all the other buildings have been re-erected from their previous locations. So as you walk through the town you pass the bank where the clerks sit at the high counter behind a heavy grill. Next door is the motor repair shop, whilst on the corner is the pharmacy.

The Pharmacy
View along Canal Street

If you watched the “Victorian Pharmacy” series on TV, the interior of the shop will be instantly recognisable. Then there’s the drapers, the iron-mongers, the public-house, the post-office and sweet shop, all apparently open for business. Across the road is the fish&chip shop open for business and doing a roaring trade. Behind the shops is the casting foundry where molten metal is being poured into sand moulds

One of the Shire Horses being prepared for work

Down the hill are more workshops, the stables with a collection of shire-horses, the school and the village green with a visiting fair-ground..

A Victorian Kitchen

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The weather has turned up trumps! For a second day it’s a cloudless sky. I have an online booking at the West Midlands Safari Park. A reasonably long drive away but since I paid for the entry using Tesco vouchers, I didn’t mind. The complex is divided into two sections. One is the drive-through safari. The other being the zoo and theme park. Since I arrived shortly after opening time, I decided to do the drive-through first. The road wends its way along several miles of tarmac with areas being separated by pairs of electronic gates. So different species are kept within their own enclosure. With doors locked and windows closed, drivers and passengers are safe even amongst the most dangerous animals.

After having lunch in a shady spot over-looking a small lake, I set off in search of the zoo and theme park. I found it a bit of a disappointment. It consisted of a water feature containing a dozen or so penguins and another glass sided area with a family of meerkats. The rest of the park consisted of long queues to take rides on roller coasters and other stomach-churning rides. I decided to give it a miss and set off in the direction of my last planned visit for the day.

By following the brown signs along several narrow country lanes, I arrived at the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey. This Abbey was founded in about 1148 for a community of Augustinian monks. By the late 13th century it was attracting wealthy and important visitors, so it became a religious house of great reputation and prestige. But in its later years, following a change of abbot, the Abbey became heavily in debt which contributed to a gradual dwindling of the community. Following King Henry’s suppression in 1538, the site was sold with parts being converted into a private house. The buildings were also severely damaged in the Civil War during a Parliamentarian siege, but the present standing remains demonstrate what a magnificent building it once was.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Another cloudless sky and the promise of a hot day. I had nothing planned but a couple of jobs had cropped up on my caravan. Last night when I went to switch on the under-pelmet LED strip lights on, they failed to work. Also, after my shower yesterday, the pump warning light took longer than usual to switch off. I decided it was a good time to see to both jobs. After removing an original light fitting and remaking a connection, the LED strips were working once more. Then after replacing a couple of worn o-rings on the Whale pump housing, with a dab of silicone grease, it cured the slight air leak which was obviously beginning to happen. After an early lunch I got out the bike and set off on a circular ride around the canal area. The sunshine had brought out the narrow-boat folk.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Today was leaving day. It was time to set off for home. Within thirty minutes of setting off, I’d reached the slip road for the M6-south. I was met with four lanes of slowly moving traffic. After a few miles of second gear crawl, I could see the two outer lanes were moving quicker than lanes one and two. I soon realized the faster moving vehicles were heading for the toll-motorway. I’ve never used it before but decided to give it go. I gradually made my way across the lanes and very soon I’d left behind the congestion and was bowling along at 60. At the barrier, the toll charge – paid by a wave of my debit card cost me just under eleven quid but it enabled me to join the M42 well past the crawl around Birmingham. I made a lunch stop at Cherwell Services and found plenty of space in the caravan parking bay. The rest of the journey along the M40 was busy but free-flowing. Even the M25 traffic kept on the move. Soon, I was back home.