A Trundle around Places Beginning with B
A well-known Staffordshire village, a vibrant Brooklyn neighbourhood, an elegant district of London and a spectacular slate mining town in Snowdonia. Such different places, each with its own beauty. Each with a special significance for me. Each with a distinctive charm.
My Trundle, which took place during the glorious month of May, began in Barlaston, a pretty, typically English village near to the famous Wedgwood Estate. I often went there with my Dad as a child. We walked on the gentle paths of the rolling Barlaston Downs and then went to a little cafe on the green for tea and scones. I have a clear picture of him, walking through the gorse and heather, listening to me in his kindly way as I shared my thoughts.
The tea shop has long closed, but instead I drink tea at the Upper House, a country house hotel, built for Josiah Wedgwood’s grandson Francis. I first stayed here when I went to make the arrangements for my Dad’s funeral in December 2016. It’s gone from being a place of pain to one of great comfort. Dad had lunch there many times during his last years, was born nearby and worked devotedly at Wedgwood for many years.
He also loved to walk in the green and pleasant Staffordshire countryside, which is as unassuming as he was. Now I follow familiar tracks, looking at the wide sky and wonder if he’s watching me. I miss his kindness greatly and it’s always a pleasure to base myself in this homely hotel, where the people who work there are so genuinely nice.
After a few days of wandering around amidst the hotel’s lovely gardens, and sitting in my mum’s room at the residential care home where she now lives, trying to talk to her, it was time to move on, to a very different scene.
Bed Stuy, Brooklyn
For seven years my daughter has lived in America. During these years I have visited her 12 times, lucky enough to have had the funds to do so. Presently she lives in the largely African American neighbourhood of Bed Stuy, in a treelined street of gracious, solid brownstone houses. In Spring and summer vivid flowers grown in the small gardens at the front of the houses and around the trees. On warm days, people sit out on their stoops – the wide steps leading up to their front doors, lolling, chatting, socializing.
Nearby is Tompkins Avenue, where on Saturday nights outside Bedvyne the lively craft beer and wine bar, there’s a barbecue where jerk chicken and pork are dished up with salad for ten dollars. Organic wines are sold by the glass and this is a convivial place to enjoy summer. Or if your appetite is small and your budget is large, try the healthy and expensive Japanese inspired poke bowls of brown rice and steamed fish at Marude, while listening to Cuban music and watching children playing in the street. This is still a real, warmhearted neighbourhood with a sense of community as well as cool.
Despite my pledge to avoid paying over the odds for a plate of Brussel sprouts shavings with pomegranate seeds, I got there eventually at Saraghina, a charming pizza and tapas restaurant on Halsey Street. I had my last Brooklyn meal there before heading for the airport, sitting in the courtyard garden, savouring the sophistication, while eating fava bean puree. But at the beginning of my trip, when my resolve was stronger, I stuck to buying takeaways from the many well stocked corner delis and heading for the park instead.
The Herbert Von King Park has been a focal point of my three stays in Bedstuy. It’s not very big, but there’s a lot of life to see there. I watched 13 year old boys play hide and seek with astonishing gusto and bought some bubble mix from a couple who seemed to be contentedly based on a bench. Eating a carton of rice and peas or a cream cheese and avocado bagel, while gently sunbathing and reading will always be a happy memory for me of my Brooklyn visits.
On my last day the thriving Hattie Catham community gardens was open and I walked around, admiring the rows of lettuce and cabbages, growing away in the sunshine. People around the world love to cultivate and it’s a joy to see.
For 19 years I was lucky to live in this green oasis, two minutes from Russell Square. Every morning I thanked my lucky stars as I left my flat and walked across the large beautifully designed square, pausing by the fountain to reflect on the day ahead.
My daughter used to laugh at me for always smelling one of the square’s many rose as part of my morning ritual.
Now she smells roses herself, and I am glad of this as it’s a good way to make yourself feel joyful. I love walking around this timeless, rather peaceful neighborhood, with nostalgia on every corner. It was a wonderful place to bring up a child.
There are many squares in Bloomsbury and I love to do a tour of them. I start at Russell Square then walk through Soas University to Gordon Square, where the rose beds are stupendous and in Spring there’s a wilderness of bluebells and Queen Anne’s lace around the edges.
There’s a good little cafe here too, where the coffee is nice and strong. Feeling lively after a few shots of this, I amble back along Tavistock Street, then onto Marchmont Street again, where there’s a lovely little community garden on the side of the Brunswick Centre, beautifully planted all year round.
I zip through Waitrose, across the square and into Brunswick Square to admire the spectacular flower bed in the middle. Then I walk past Coram’s Fields, where I spent so much time with my daughter when she was a child and where she played with her friends, gaining independence amidst the rides and the sheep.
I usually end up in classy Lambs Conduit Street, where I buy something slightly healthy in The Peoples’ Supermarket, before turning back down Great Ormond Street to Great Queen Street, for more newly blooming scented roses and a sit on a bench, recalling the days when my boyfriend and I were in our early years of dating.
Sometimes I stay at the Harlingford Hotel, in Cartright Gardens. My dear dad liked to stay here too, in this family run bolthole, overlooking Cartwright Gardens. It’s friendly and affordable, serving breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon to set you up for the journey from Euston.
Before I go to that monstrous station, I have a peaceful moment in Cartwright Gardens themselves, never open to the public when I lived there. Now though you can play tennis or just sit and daydream. My life changed when I left Bloomsbury and a big adventure began with many Trundles worldwide. I still mourn my past years there at times but treasure my immense good fortune and freedom.
The last destination on the B trail is the legendary slate mining town of Blaenau Festiniog. Now shortlisted as a Unesco Heritage Site, remarkable for its imposing mounds of slate, Blaenau is a severe place, gloomy at times and often shrouded in atmospheric, damp mist.
The train from Euston takes a mere three hours to arrive at Llandudno Junction and from here you can take the Conwy Valley line all the way to Blaenau.
It’s a spectacular journey with views of the lush Conwy Valley, then into the mountains of Snowdonia. No matter how green the squares of London and New York might be or how rural the Staffordshire countryside, this is another scenic league . This is wild Wales where muddy walkers board the train with their poles and boots and Welsh is spoken as a first language. The stations are tiny, mostly just a platform but the views are epic and the green is so fresh and refreshing.
The last stretch takes you through a tunnel and then out into grey, moody Blaenau. It’s a place like no other. A true Welsh town not swamped by the English buying the stone and slate cottages and a starting point for the famous Ffestiniog mountain railway. It deserves to be a Unesco site, recognized as a backbone of the region with its brutal beauty.
After a wander round the grey streets and an earnest vegan pasty from the cheerful Kurdish baker on the main street, I hop on the 3B for the final stretch of my B place odyssey. It takes me through majestic mountain scenery to Maentwrog, the pretty village in the Vale of Festiniog where I have spent so much time over the last 15 years. You can barely see its classic cottages sometimes for flashy cars parked along its tiny main street, but it’s still a lovely place and I feel very at home here. The journey is over for a while, I breathe in the delicious air and I relax.