Liverpool and Ludlow
If you want a contrast between the affluent south and the rather less affluent north, get a train from Oxford to Liverpool, then take a cab to pick up a hire car in Knotty Ash. The upside is that you can get a pint of larger for £1.20 and a meal for £2.99 in Knotty Ash, less than half the price of Oxford. The downside is that it is the kind of place you can get a pint of larger for £1.20 and a meal for £2.99.......... We drove past Liverpool Innovation Park which was half empty, past old derelict terrace estates with trees growing through roofs and bushes in the streets and near to high rise estates that were just plan grim. The strange contrast was the cars on the road; plentiful beemers, Mercs and Audis and very very few old heaps. In similar areas of Sydney it is the opposite way around. The other contrast is the people: the cab driver and the gang at Eurocar cold not have been more helpful. The latter also gave me a Golf, so other than trying to remember how to use a manual it was a straight forward drive. I only stalled once........
It was lovely to see Cath Joe and Pop and after 3 years all was comfortably familiar. We had a quiet afternoon and evening chatting, watching our Arctic video and generally catching up. I also got to fulfill one of my 'things to do in the UK' goals and have fish and chips. The local chippy obviously lives by the theory that quantity has a quality all of its own. Not the greatest but could feed a family of 4 for £4.00.
I left early the following day for the very picturesque but slow drive to Mums at Richards Castle. The area of the Welsh boarder is glorious: all hills, greenery and lovely old houses. Too many old people driving slowly in Rovers though. Far too many. Perhaps they drive slowly for fear that cornering at speed will burst their colostomy bags, and that could really ruin the upholstery.
Despite a broken arm Mum looked well which is great and moral is good. I had a lovely few days there, going to old pubs next to pretty rivers, wandering through Ludlow's fantastic farmers market and drinking far too much. Bother Nic joined us on Thurs afternoon and led me astray on Friday. Pints are hard work after a few years of the Aussie schooner and a pub crawl a real challenge. Which of course I rose to.
Ludlow is a very very old town full of very very old pubs, some of which contain very very old people. One, the Wheatsheaf, had a clientele which consisted of the two of us, two real ale enthusiasts discussing how bad Dales Ales were and a very old man how was obviously the pub bore. How very English. We left after one beer.
The problem with old English pubs is a man can forget they are not theme bars but real pubs serving a real population and not all are welcoming. The Blue Boar is very real. We realized this as I was ordering and noticed that the two 'ladies' at the end of the bar were laughing at us. It may be that our shirts were standing out as they were not football shirts...........or it may have been because mine was pink linen. Either way, this laughter, the looks from the other people there and the fact the pregnant barmaid had her firstborn running rampant around the place whilst the landlord/father complained about a bad drug deal on his mobile made us feel rather uncomfortable. We left after one beer.
I wish we had called it a night at that point rather than visiting a few other places before entrenching in the Church. My memory goes a little hazy from there. I remember that they did not have tequila, which is a good thing, but do not remember the flavored gin and tonics I allegedly did drink, or getting home. I also remember feeling like death for the next 24hrs.
Despite bad living I managed a couple of runs in the hills and forests around Richards Castle. Mortimer Forest is an ancient forest stretching for miles in the Ludlow area and is criss-crossed by old drovers routes and medieval rights of way. It also has a bloody big hill in the middle of it, so any run is challenging (it makes a great alternative to the city2surf which I missed for the first time in 3 years).
When I run along these old paths and past the half timbered buildings which are devoid of straight lines, I really do feel a connection (which is irrational and makes me a bit of a hippie) and I am sure I will always feel like an Englishman in my core.
Jodie joined us for the last day (Sunday) which was lovely. We had a great Sunday lunch then chatted, sitting in the garden watching the sun go down whilst an old man got his remote controlled airplane stuck in a tree, as you do. We also watched the Olympic closing ceremony which was a wonderful demonstration of all that is good about Britain. And it didn't rain.
Next stop, Paris.