Posted by: Sarah | April 5, 2006

A (Not Particularly) Grand Tour

Soon we’ll be setting off from Sussex on a week’s holiday, a sort of round trip taking in parts of North Wales, Cheshire, Somerset and Dorset.

First stop will be Llangollen were we shall spend two nights in a hotel (what luxury!). If the weather is kind, we’ll go to the seaside (childhood nostalgia) at Llandudno where there’s an Alice in Wonderland exhibition (because Alice Liddell spent her holidays here) and “Professor” Codman’s Punch & Judy Show (pictured), of happy memory. Then we’ll visit a castle or two, perhaps Conwy or Caernarfon. I’d like to climb Snowdon again (Yr Wyddfa to those of us who have read and loved Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Sword at Sunset), but time will probably not permit.

Then on to Alderley Edge, my childhood home in Cheshire to visit my family. Here on the high sandstone escarpment above the village there are traces of the copper mining that began in prehistory and also legends of King Arthur, alluded to by Alan Garner in his children’s novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And here’s a site devoted to the history, people and landscape of Alderley Edge.

In the 19th century, wealthy Lancashire millowners, known locally as “Cottontots”, made their palatial homes on the wooded slopes of Alderley Edge. Nowadays, some of these houses are owned by even wealthier Manchester United footballers.

Only a few miles away in a place called Lindow Moss where we used to play our childhood games of Cowboys and Indians (or Brits and Romans!), the ancient bog body known as
Lindow Man was found in the 1980s.

From Alderley, we go south to stay with my brother-in-law and partner in Bath, which is of course teeming with history, both Roman and Regency. Not to mention Jane Austen.

Finally, we head down into Dorset, to my mother-in-law’s Hardyesque village of Child Okeford in the Blackmore Vale (The Vale of the Little Dairies in Tess of the D’Urbervilles). Over Child Okeford looms Hambledon Hill, a multivallate Iron Age hillfort, a slightly smaller version of Maiden Castle near Dorchester. Nearby is another fort, Hod Hill, which was taken by the Romans shortly after the Claudian invasion in AD 43, reputedly by the future emperor Vespasian. The Romans built a fort in one corner making use of the British earthworks. The hill is now a nature reserve where rare wild orchids grow on soil that has never been ploughed.

Child Okeford and Hambledon Hill are both mentioned in Julian Rathbone’s novel about 1066, The Last English King. His hero Walt grew up nearby and Rathbone knows the area, having been at school in neighbouring Shillingstone.



  1. Okay, I’m jealous. so jealous. I know you live over there, but I WANNA GO BACK! We spent 3 weeks over on your side of the pond a few years back, and I’m still “homesick” for it. Especially Wales. We stayed in Dolgellau a few days and (attempted) to climb Cader Idris (the area figured prominently in Susan Cooper’s fantasy series The Dark is Rising)

    Enjoy your little vacation. Perhaps have a scone with jam and clotted cream for me? (I had one in Mevagissey that I swear was 6″ tall 🙂

  2. I look forward to hearing about Llangollen. My wife’s birthday present to me this year is to let me spend a week on my own in a cottage 5 miles from Llangollen – indeed 5 miles from anything: no telephone (neither landline nor mobile), no television, no internet – where I will have nothing to do but write or walk in the surrounding countryside.

    I did this last year, in Shropshire, and managed 25,000 words in 5 days.

  3. That’s some tour – a lot of ground covered in a week, both geographical and literary! I must go and climb Snowdon again one day; I walked up it when I was a child and I remember looking down from just below the summit to a dark blue tarn in a corrie way below. (For about 10 seconds before the cloud arrived, naturally). I think it must have been Glaslyn, though I didn’t know its name at the time; I found out years later that one legend has it as the last resting place for Excalibur. It suits the association. Have a lovely time!

  4. What an awesome holiday. I hope you will tell us all about your travels when you get back.

    I think I saw the Lindow man in one of the museums (can’t remember exactly which). I had read a book on him which was very interesting but when I actually saw him all I could think was “Eww – gross!”.

  5. Nessili
    I remember The Dark Is Rising. Will do my best with a Virtual Cream Tea for you — any excuse for a scone and cream and jam but I can’t guarantee 6 inches in height! Maybe a Bath Bun or Sally Lunn cake too. Or a Bath Oliver if they still make them. Yum.

    What a wonderful spouse you must have! I envy you your cottage week. I shall drop hints to Mr. Bookarama. All the best with your novel — it sounds intriguing.

    I last “did” Snowdon as a child too and I remember that tarn — and a little mountain stream with the best-tasting crystal-clearest water I’ve ever drunk. Yes, we’ve probably bitten off more than we can chew for the time we’ve got but we’ll see.

    He’s in the British Museum. He looks pretty well kippered, poor chap. But he might be an ancestor of mine (well, I can fantasize).

  6. That sounds like a wonderful trip. One of these years we’ll have to travel back overseas and brave driving on the other side of the road!

  7. Sounds lovely! I’m down in Devon and I’m going to Bath next month when my Mom comes out to visit, so I can’t wait to hear about your trip there.
    My hubby has promised we’ll do Wales soon, because I’m desperate to go there! I’ve seen it driving on the M5 off Bristol, but that’s as close as I’ve come so far.

  8. I hope I can come over this autumn. I’ve had a tour in planning* for some time now, but there’s always that ugly money problem.

    * something in the way of Around London in Ten Days: Winchester – Chichester – Canterbury – Colchester – Cambridge – Oxford

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