The Merlin Shropshire weekend
The weekend started when the Ellis and Daniels contingent met up at the Days Inn near Telford and, once they found that the Harrisons were still at home, they set off to the small town of Shifnal to find an evening meal.
But all three parties managed to meet up at Jasper’s Bistro (we gather that it’s not to be recommended for culinary skills) but we had a drink together before retiring back to the hostel for an evening cuppa, a social chat and a chance to catch up with the last four month’s events.
Day 1 – 82 miles Long Mynd, Secret Hills (Craven Arms), Stokesay, Ludlow
Next days breakfast was interrupted by the arrival of five locals (Sandy, David, Amanda, Mark and Nadia) and by ten we were just about to leave the car park when John and Lorraine turned into the car park. They hadn’t realised that this was the intended meet up point but just called in at a suitable service station for a brief rest and a cuppa. So we deferred our departure time to give them to opportunity to rest and refresh before all five cars (four Merlins and one Mondeo) set off on the first day’s outing.
Forty minutes later found us up on the windy heights of the Long Mynd – one of Shropshire’s beauty spots that offered good view across the distant valleys. We took in the views while Nadia and Lorraine explored an adjacent hill then remounted the cars to take a leisurely stroll around the south west end of the hill top, and past the local gliding club before descending.
After a short trip through some more lanes and roads we soon arrived at the Secret Hills Centre in Craven Arms. They had a wonderful café with a fair choice of midday lunches so we all went our own way for a while, mostly strolling around the pathways in little groups chatting and enjoying its diversions before meeting in the café for lunch. After that we explored the centre’s exhibition which included the history of geology with simulated earth quakes of 2, 5 and 8 on the Richter scale, an encounter with the most complete mammoth skeleton ever discovered in the UK and a simulated trip in a hot air balloon over the Shropshire Hills – we all enjoyed the whole exhibition.
Stokesay Castle was only three minutes down the road. This was misnamed because Stokesay was really a fortified Manor House with a main hall, live-in Tower a walled enclosure and gatehouse keep. The whole place was in good condition so you explore all the rooms with the aid of an audio guide which was included in the admission.
I think we all enjoyed exploring the castle and grounds which were big enough to be entertaining but small enough to see it all in detail. At the end of this brief shower that flew across had cleared so with time to spare we moved of to Ludlow where we parked up and had a free hour and a half to explore this little old country town with it interesting nooks and crannies and take in some tea refreshment. Ludlow is another castle town which hasn’t succumbed to the regimentality of big store names. Apart form a small Woolworths most of the other retailers are still local which gives the town a unique blend of clothes stores, hardware shops, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Admitted we arrived as most of the shops were closing but were we still able to enjoy its individuality.
Suitably refresh and with petrol tanks refilled we left Ludlow behind to pause at one more vantage point at Clee Hill before arriving at Bridgnorth for our booked evening meal. This was at the Falcon Hotel were eleven out of thirteen settled for the evening carvery which so generous as to beat almost everyone who partook. (and at £7.95 for such a dish there was every reason to say it gave real value for money)
Day 2 – 35 miles – RAF Cosford, Weston Hall, Ironbridge
The second day was arranged by Mike and we were to meet up at RAF Cosford. Four Merlins left Days Inn and took off down the M54 to arrive at Cosford only fifteen minutes later. Having met up with the others the fifteen-strong party went of to the reception to meet Alf – a retired RAF Serviceman volunteer from the Museum who was to be our hired guide for the morning. This brought a new perspective to the museum and although Alf obviously had a bias towards “proper aircraft with propellers at the front” his extra knowledge brought the history to life especially when focused on the events of the last war. At the end we had twenty minutes left to play in the “hands-on” section before we left for lunch.
Our mid-day fare had been booked at a local pub were all fifteen sat down for Sunday lunch together – but we had to disappoint the landlord who thought he was looking at a collection of hugely expensive cars in his car park - £35,000 a piece – perhaps not but £5-10,000 might be closer – he couldn’t believe that most were used as everyday cars.
After lunch, we thanked the landlord for his hospitality and also bade farewell to John and Lorraine who had had to cut short their weekend. The rest of the party headed off, just a few miles back down the road, to Weston House. Although we were booked in, and the army cadet on the gate was supposed to keep an eye open for us and show us in directly, he got it wrong and we ended up going all around the park, (past Noddy and Friends event) before we parked up in the public car park. After strolling down to the gate it was discovered that we should have driven straight in (past the first Army cadet) and parked up on the main field in front of the house (for a photo opportunity). So we moved the cars and then enjoyed a tour of the house which had been used only recently to entertain the G8 summit leaders (Clinton, Blair, Chirac etc). We enjoyed the house and its grounds (although the maze might be more interesting when the recently planted bushes mature). Mike and Heather also had to leave at the end of this tour to get back to family so we all said goodbye wile the rest stayed on for a tea-time cuppa.
Evening meal had been left as an ad-hoc affair so Dave and Sandy kindly volunteered to lead us by the more direct back roads to Ironbridge so we could add that to our list of “been there” places and find and comfy little pub for evening snacks (mostly baguettes and wraps after that healthy Sunday lunch). Then it was time to wander back to the Days Inn for the last time.
Day 3 – 12 miles – Severn Valley Railway
Despite two people’s best efforts to secure extra discount form Days Inn, we checked our from the motel straight after breakfast. Today’s main attraction was the trip on the preserved Severn Valley Railway. We parked up at Bridgnorth (just in time to get the last few free car park spaces) and bought our return tickets for Kidderminster – a 14 mile trip that takes about 45 minutes through the delightful Severn Valley. Rattling along at a sedate speed Nadia and Mark were the only two who braved a view out of the open windows – only to come back for our amusement with spots of coke and soot in their faces.
The tea-boy (at least 65 years old) came down with refreshments which actually turned out to be the best priced coffee bought anywhere that weekend (British Rail please note) but he didn’t have Berty Botts Any-Flavour Beans. We paused briefly at Kidderminster only to return on the same train and disembark at Bewdley. Although this seems and odd way to get to Bewdley we must add that the railway trip does offer a unique view of the West Midlands Safari Park which was not to be missed after Dave’s resounding anouncement “Elephant’s on the left!!”.
Bewdley is a small town that is fairly close to the station which gave us more opportunity, from our brief time left, to find a suitable place for lunch and do a little exploring. Our pub was friendly and helpful with a reasonably fast service that gave us all about an hour to browse the streets, shops and living museum before meeting back at the station for our trip back. And on the last hop we sat in one of the older compartment cabins with the corridor at one side of the carriage and a sliding door to give each compartment a little privacy. Nadia thought it was just like the Hogwarts Express form Harry Potter.
But too soon it was pulling into Bridgnorth and time for us to make our farewells, return to the cars, and head for home. One Mondeo went back to Staffs while the three Merlins headed south towards Hereford, with Dai and Sue on to South Wales and John and Margaret last off to Devon via the Wye Valley.
From the West Midlands Area Group we can only say thanks to you all for taking part and we’re just glad that you all had a good time.
David and Mike