As leaves fall and Leaving looms, The Trundler takes an uplifting trip across Britain
Family matters meant that I couldn’t travel as far as Croatia as planned, but with feet itching as always, I decided to head to North East Wales, The Peak District and East Sussex instead.
The weather was soggy with the odd flash of sunshine, but the scenery was full of autumn gold.
We drove first to Mold, staying at Tower, a beautiful 15th century house, set in soft green parkland. It’s still a family home, but there are elegant rooms available for B and B, filled with lovely, old furniture and huge comfortable beds. A large, delicious breakfast is served on fine Wedgwood china, adding to the wild grandeur.
This was a quirky, relaxing and interesting place to spend the night before heading down to The Peak District and the delightful Staffordshire village of Longnor.
It felt a bit funny renting a cottage in my home county, but it worked out well as a base from which to explore as well as visit my mum, who resides about 40 minutes away.
Longnor is a sturdy, pleasing village, set in gentle countryside. It has two pubs, a general stores, a post office and a good fish and chip shop. We ate cod, chips and peas from here on our first and last nights in tiny Blackberry Cottage. Apart from having a very small kitchen this was a lovely, bright, comfortable place to stay, right in the village.
We also ate at the Merchants House, on a tasteful carved bench, drooling over the fancy but filling food. This smart restaurant has a laid-back pub next door, an hospitable spot from which to observe the lives of others.
After visiting my mum, we drove around the maze which is Stoke on Trent, until eventually we found the British Ceramics Biennal, set in a cavernous hall, former home of the Spode factory. This imaginative show has become a beacon for inventive ceramicists and a compelling cultural event.
I am proud of my heritage, but I can’t pretend I find Stoke on Trent a pretty place. It was a relief to return to Longnor and the fine views across the fields.
We walked along the Tissington trail, a former railway line, ideal for cyclists and walkers like me – slow and not keen on slippery surfaces. On the way we admired a Croatian beehive, given as mark of respect from Croatia to Britain. This made me sad, knowing that we are about to separate from these kind European countries and their goodwill.
Then in search of art and culture, we drove to Sheffield, impressed by this vibrant city, famous for steel and music but also home to some wonderful galleries.
The Graves Gallery is the private collection of John George Graves, who started Britain’s first mail order business, selling watches. He was once Lord Mayor of the city and established the university’s student union. An all-round benefactor with a keen eye for a good painting. A gorgeous Grayson Perry tapestry called Comfort Blanket adorned the wall. Not for many years has Britain needed one more.
My final day in the Peaks was spent in the Devonshire Spa in gracious Buxton, part of Derbyshire University. This illustrious building has a magnificent dome at its heart and the spa is just to one side of it, compact and calming with a hydro pool and various aromatic steam rooms. I left looking extremely clean after a blissful facial and an extremely healthy lunch. Two treatments and a full day in the spa cost £120.
I was sad to leave Longnor and the glory of the peaks and valleys, the warm people and the busy fish and chip shop. I was even sad to say goodbye to the Derbyshire oatcakes, on sale everywhere. They are not as good as the Staffordshire oatcakes I love so much, but were pleasantly chunky, served with grilled cheese on top.
It was an easy train ride to London and soon I was on another train to Hastings in East Sussex.
I like Hastings, a jolly jaunty kind of place. And I especially like The Crown pub where I hugely enjoyed a fish finger sandwich and a cloudy lemonade with my old friend.
That night we celebrated another old friend’s birthday, firstly with a delicious, well organised dinner in Graze on the Seafront in St Leonards and then in Wayne’s bar at the Globe on Fountain where aging club goers were dancing in the same manner as they did in 1981.
We walked back along the blustery sea front and I felt very happy to be in the company of my friend, laughing and talking as we have done for 40 years.
Soon enough I was back in London, staying at the Harlingford Hotel in a tiny little room overlooking Cartright Gardens in Bloomsbury. Sometimes I wonder why I ever left this special part for London, where I lived for so many years. I was filled with delight as I sat eating Sushi in Russell Square, watching the cascades of the fountain.
In Trafalgar Square, Extinction Rebellion were nobly encamped and a group of jolly Bolivians were extolling the virtues of Evo Morales and performing joyful traditional dances.
Inside the National Gallery, I looked at the vivid, exotic paintings of Gaugin but not for long. I felt disgust at the painter who had been so abusive to the women in his life.
Slowly I made my way back to Bloomsbury and ate some heavenly Tofu pudding and spicy pork in Chilli Cool in Leigh Street.
The BT Tower loomed in a reassuring way above the skyline. I felt a little homesick for the past, but also happy that London still seemed like home on this clear autumn night.