Typically, the weather scuppered our more fanciful plans, such as the Snowdon climb. We awoke on our first morning at Llangollen to glorious sunshine and blue sky — and a snow-covered hillside on the other side of the Dee valley. But by the time we got to Betws-y-Coed, the skies looked threatening and later, approaching Llandudno, we were deluged by a hailstorm that lasted over an hour. We wouldn’t have enjoyed being stranded halfway up a mountain in that, I do assure you, although the hardy souls we’d earlier seen setting out for the climb would probably be relishing it as part of the Snowdon experience.
The gem of the holiday was Stokesay Castle in Shropshire. Built in the 13th century to defend its manor against the Welsh and added to in later centuries, it has elements of several ages, from a medieval battlemented tower and wooden cruck-beamed roof in the Great Hall, to an enchanting half-timbered 16th-century gatehouse and Jacobean interior panelling in the Solar. Everything is on a human scale and it was obviously much loved and sympathetically “modernized” by its various owners.
The highlight of our visit to Bath was No. 1 Royal Crescent, restored and furnished by The Bath Preservation Trust as a prime example of 18th-century architecture and style. The houses in Royal Crescent were built to be let to fashionable families for the “Season” and while the exteriors conformed to the architect’s plans, the interiors were arranged and decorated to individual tastes. Most fascinating was the basement kitchen containing an array of domestic and cooking implements collected by an architect involved in the restoration of several Georgian town houses in Bath. Above the huge cast iron range was a treadmill which would have been operated by a dog to turn the meat-roasting spit, a common practice at the time. The guide assured us that the dog would have been rewarded with a dish of meat and juices at the end of its daily stint. I hope it did after enduring the heat and discomfort — and the tantalizing smells coming from below! There’s more information and a virtual tour of No. 1 here.
We didn’t get a West Country Cream Tea, but in Bath we made up for it with a visit to Sally Lunn’s to indulge in the toasted eponymous bun with butter, clotted cream and blackcurrant jam. The buns are big but very light and moreish and not unlike a brioche.
Although the origins of the bun, and of Sally Lunn herself, are debatable, and the recipe remains a secret bound up with the deeds of the building (which is reputedly the oldest house in Bath), here are some educated guesses to try at home.
Another highlight was The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol which opened in 2002. Amazing to think that this is the first museum devoted to a very important part of our history. And I’m pleased to say that it’s refreshingly free of the politically-correct bias so dismally prevalent nowadays (I’m not a Grumpy Old Woman for nothing). Nor is it at all triumphalistic or gung-ho. It informs without lecturing or hectoring. It’s very child-friendly and has a comprehensive archive which will be of great use to historical researchers.
The museum was founded by John Letts, one of those energetic and gifted amateurs who make it their life’s work to put their private enthusiasms to public use. Critical of the poor state of many local museums, he established the Museum of the Year competition to encourage them to dust themselves off. But when
Letts took his children to an exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute he was so struck by its feebleness that he resolved to start a proper museum to Empire, although he was intellectually a man of the Left. At a time of raging post-colonial guilt, when many were trying to ignore Britain’s imperial heritage, he felt historians had a duty to present an objective view of the Empire to future generations. [Obituary, Daily Telegraph 01.04.2006]
He was also a writer of rude limericks and inventor of naughty board games, but that’s by the bye, I suppose.