Tuesday, 2 October 2018
Shropshire Holiday:: Days 3.5 - 5
Day Three continued...::
After Chirk Castle from my last post, we visited The Mere at Ellesmere, a huge lake with a multitude of water birds and the largest of Shropshire's meres. Having just Googled what 'mere' means because apparently Shropshire has several of them, a mere is generally described as a lake that is fairly shallow compared to its relative size. The lake and the grounds around the lake are enormous with parks and gardens and woodland walks. We weren't feeling overly up to the task of a rigorous stroll and beelined instead for the tea room which, as it turned out, also sold duck food!
There seems to be a big problem here with people feeding the ducks and geese with bread, which is so bad for them! Not in a 'chocolate is bad for you' sort of a way, but in an actual life changing sort of a way. There were posters up about it all over the place, and we saw several geese with the end result of being fed too much bread- Angel Wing.
Looking back through my photos I don't appear to have any with the angel-winged geese in, but essentially it means that their wings don't develop properly and stick out at right angles to the body so they can't fly. When so many people feed them bread, the birds stop eating the food that they should which provides nutrients the body needs, and creates a deficiency. It's actually very sad to see them wandering around with bits of wing sticking out all over the place.
We bought a couple of bags of duck food and instantly made many hundreds of friends. A large gaggle of which followed us everywhere we went. Ducks are lovely to feed from the hand, it doesn't hurt or pinch at all. Geese on the other hand are quite jabby and vicious so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. They are such characters to watch though. Mr Nobbly in the below photo seemed to be the only one of his particular breed, and he would come up to you sideways, almost like you wouldn't notice him if he wasn't exactly facing you.
Our holiday home was really lovely. A converted barn with very modern appliances and gadgets. We thought we'd broken the freezer when we arrived because we put our ice packs in it and it immediately started beeping incessantly at us. After some research it turned out that it was something to do with the temperature of the freezer being much colder than the ice packs which were warmed up through use during the day. It also had an ice dispenser in the door for drinks which had a very slow touch screen on it. The Sister got super excited and pressed it several times thinking it hadn't registered the ice request, which it had but was just slow to respond, so it then spent the next half an hour randomly throwing ice at anyone who walked past. We didn't touch it after that.
In the courtyard garden was a huge fire pit which was really exciting. We bought some wood and had a fire nearly every night with s'mores and banana splits, coffee, bat spotting, star gazing and chatting.
We got to go narrowboating! The huge aqueduct we spotted a the beginning of the holiday is called Pontcysylte Aqueduct and is the tallest navigable aqueduct in the world! There is only one taller aqueduct which is in France, but you can't cross it by boat any more so we win.
There are several different narrowboat companies that will take you across, or if you are feeling adventurous you can hire your own boat for the day and drive yourself over. You can even do it the old fashioned way in a horse drawn boat! We went with Jones the Boats who take you across the aqueduct with a tour guide telling you all about it. Do you remember I mentioned Thomas Telford a couple of posts ago? He also built the aqueduct, and even lived in a little cottage that you can see from the aqueduct so that he could keep an eye on the building works.
The boat ride was a there and back experience which takes about 45 minutes even though you don't go very far. On one side of the bridge is a pathway which would have originally been for the horses to pull the boats along and on the other side...there is nothing. If you fell off the boat on this side you would have plummeted straight down over 30 metres into the field below. The Mother had her eyes shut most of the way across.
It was amazing! This was one of my favourite activities of the whole holiday- I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The views were incredible of the valley below and I loved being back on a narrowboat again. I am trying very hard to convince the family that we should go narrowboating for our holiday next year.
Once we'd finished our boat ride, we wandered back along the bridge, this time on the footpath, taking in the view which included another aqueduct in the distance!
When we could drag ourselves away from the canal, more duck feeding, narrowboats and aqueducts, we had a quick little wander around Llangollen itself with its steam railway and rapid filled river. I found a little hand knitted doll sitting on a flower pot who is a Shelley Angel. The little ticket on her dress says:
"Shelley Angels are sent to spread the love and to bless. Take me with you photograph me and leave me to pass on the blessing to others."
I didn't take her with me, but you can see other photos of other angels on the Shelley Angel facebook page. They seem very world travelled!
To round the day off, we drove over Horseshoe Pass, so named because the road from one mountain side to the other curves round in a horseshoe. I don't think it has anything to do with Horseshoe Falls, although they are next door to each other! I keep going on about the views on this holiday but they really were around every corner! (Or horseshoe.) One of the things I like about these high up places is how quiet they are. Your ears fill with the wind blowing and you can't hear anything else, all is muffled and peaceful.
At the very top is a gift shop and cafe so we stopped to have a wander round. The colours were really vivid up here (very inspiring for a stitchscape!) with the yellow gorse, purple heather, deep green fir tree woods, pale scrubby grasses and blue sky. The sheep certainly seem to like it.
We were back in our National Trust haunts again with Erddig House and Garden. It was one of the more unique NT places we've been to, although you wouldn't know it from a glance as it looks just like any other stately home and garden. It's the inside that makes the difference in this case.
You start your tour of the house in the outbuildings which included quite a substantial saw mill, painting shed, stables and coach house, that sort of thing. Then make your way around the gardens with lawns, avenues of trees, a walled garden full of Dahlias and Sweet Peas (there was one called Beth!), bee hives and meadow flowers, an ornamental canal, rose garden, covered bench nooks....
You can see in the above photo that the original house has been extended at least twice from when it was originally built in 1684 by Joshua Edisbury. He bankrupted himself through his lavish building plans and by 1709 his debts were bought out by John Meller, a London lawyer, who set about adding new wings (you can see where they stick out slightly at either side). His furnishings were very grand indeed, and in the State Bedroom you can see the special imported items such as a Chinese silk embroidered bed panel with carved and golden gilded scroll work. Conservation work is key to the daily life now at Erddig, and the whole of the State Bedroom is viewed through a glass box. You walk through the bedroom door into a glass corridor that extends into the Bedroom to protect it as so much needs to be preserved. Rather than put the room in a box, they put the visitors in one instead which is a rather novel experience.
Meller left the house to his nephew, Simon Yorke and from then on it was in the Yorke family until passed to the National Trust in 1973. The need for such rigorous conservation was all down to its second-to-last owner, Simon Yorke IV. He inherited the estate and its serious financial problems in 1922. The house was subsiding due to coal mining underneath the foundations and Simon was a recluse with no electricity, telephone or contact with the outside world. The house was frozen in time with all of its possessions, collected by generations of Yorkes, lying dormant in their forgotten rooms. On Simon's death, his brother, Phillip inherited the house and began the conservation work to rebuild Erddig back to it's former glory. He was the one who entrusted it to the National Trust who continued the conservation work, cataloguing and preserving both the contents of the house and the gardens which were completely overgrown and crumbling.
But what makes this house truly unique is the strange tradition of honouring the servants. Philip Yorke I (they were all called either Philip or Simon, it gets a bit confusing) commissioned a set of portraits in 1793 for the servants, and photographs/paintings/sketches of the servants are mounted all along the walls of the servants corridors and even in the main house, each with its own little poem saying something about the subject, written by Philip himself. It became a bit of a tradition for the servants to be documented in this way, and carried on until well into the 20th century. There was one framed account of a chap who had started work at Erddig when he was a young teen, then grown up and been promoted to a footman before going off to war and being killed in battle. As well as photos of him at Erddig as a youngster, then a footman, there was a photo of him in his military uniform, the medals he had earned in his military life and a poem telling his life's story in verse.
In a group photo of servants I looked at, the head of the cook had been 'photoshopped' in! Apparently she hadn't been very well the day the photo was taken so another lady stood in for her during the group shot and then the cook's photo, taken at a later date, was glued on afterwards to complete the image.
There was no real front door or grand entrance to the house, despite the curving staircases leading up to them. The big doorways were blocked with furniture, or not readily accessible, and apparently the family would enter the house through the servants quarters, who were more like friends or one of the family, than domestic staff. A very strange arrangement!