Pandemic Wandering

Crewe Hall Hotel

04/08/20 After testing positive for coronavirus 89 have died in the UK.

Two massive explosions – one of which appeared to be sparked by the other – have rocked Beirut, destroying buildings and causing a mushroom cloud to rise above the city’s skyline. Initial reports claimed the blasts were focused on the Lebanese capital’s port region, with several government sources placing a warehouse storing fireworks at the epicentre.

During the morning, under an increasingly murky sky, we drove two hours northwest to Crewe. It was not a warm day and the closer we got to our destination the cooler it became. Though we were booked into the large and impressive Crewe Hall Hotel for 3pm, we had decided to have a picnic in nearby Queens Park prior to checking in.

We parked up outside the main gates and quickly found a suitably vacant bench next to the central lake with splendid views along its length towards Burma Island, commemorating the Allied forces who fought in the Burma Campaign. We sat watching and listening to the honking and quacking of myriad ducks and geese paddling its water, randomly dipping heads down, bottoms-up in search of submerged food. Fascinated, we chomped our way through salmon sandwiches, freshly picked homegrown tomatoes, and mini cucumbers, topping off with a packet of crisps and a Mars bar for dessert. Satiated we set off to explore what we were to discover was a pretty and well-maintained oval park of a size easily circumnavigated in under an hour.

We arrived at our hotel along an unfolding dramatic driveway, passing through large and imposing metal gates directly in front of the main entrance. As we were a little early, we parked on one side of the building and then set off to explore the grounds. There were few people around and we seemed to have the place to ourselves, it soon became obvious that the building and grounds were seething in history, with much of the infrastructure having been updated tastefully to modern needs and standards.

After check-in (social distancing kept by foot-printed trails and standpoints) we found our room located in the new part of the hotel, just a short walk away through the original Jacobean building complex. Pleasingly the room had a view of trees and grass in a quiet part of the grounds and was well furnished with an en-suite to die for. After a couple of coffees, we set off to investigate the internal workings of this huge building. The Crewe Estate was purchased in the late 16th century by Sir Randulph Crewe. Crewe Hall was built in the early 17th century and was greatly enlarged around 1800. The landscape park was created during the 18th century. Formal gardens were added around the house in the 19th century. The house was refurbished in the late 19th century. The earliest record of a building goes back as far as 1170 AD.

What a wonderful building to explore. Armed with a printout of its history and room descriptions supplied by reception, we were encouraged by them to delve into the building, to open any doors that were not locked (of which we only came a cross one) and to spend as much time as we wanted in reconnoitre. Its mixture of Jacobean and Victorian architecture and fittings was awe-inspiring. A fortune was spent on this building and it shows, that time has not dulled its opulence. It seemed quite an anti-climax to return to our smart, hygienic and hi-tech modern convenience of a room.

We had dinner in the hotel Brasserie, located in the same modern outbuilding as our room complex. Fine food and wine are served by waiters observing the new (yet to get used to) norm procedures. Thoroughly enjoyable, I quite like the social distancing of tables where you cannot be distracted by conversations from nearby tables. One plus mark for Mr Virus.

Before returning to the room we chose to explore the oldest part of the Hall to experience the magic of the building under dimmed and quite atmospheric lighting. There were no other guests at large, just a lone and isolated receptionist engaged in some paperwork. I asked if she felt uneasy being alone in such an ancient building, the reply coming that she preferred her own company and enjoyed the silence of the night shift. I asked if she had seen or heard of any ghosts, She replied that there there are tales, but she had never seen anything. She wasn’t worried. Safely back in our brightly lit, the modern room I did some research.

Ruthin Castle Hotel

05/08/20 After testing positive for coronavirus 65 have died in the UK.

After breakfast in the hotel, we left Crewe behind and headed towards North Wales and the small village of Caergwrle. It was a pleasant hours’ drive, much along narrow winding roads, passing through quiet, picturesque little Welsh settlements. Parking up in the village car park we sat awhile on my mother’s memorial seat (Thelma Parsonage), installed 5 years ago at the base of Caergwrle Castle. It doesn’t seem that long ago. It began to drizzle as we started our climb up the steep slope of the ancient fortress, by the time we arrived at the top, the heavy moisture-laden clouds had passed by and the sun made a welcome appearance.

As if by premonition, we were greeted by the same friendly, purring cat that we have encountered on each occasion (but one), when we visited this spot where we scattered Nan’s ashes. Lockdown has affected the upkeep of the ruins, bracken and weeds have grown in profusion around the skirts of the castle and even encroached within the walls themselves. I do hope the authorities utilise their strimmers soon on this important historic piece of Welsh history.

Returning to the village we briefly visited Aunt Doreen to show her some photographs of the newest member of the clan, Alice Thelma. We were keen to visit Mold Market so stayed just half an hour.

On arrival, the market was in full swing, it had been spread over several streets than just the usual High Street location, due to social distancing enforcement by the council. The locals were out in force, though not many wearing masks. Unexpectedly, we came across Noel and Gaye at the top of the High Street. They had just returned from Southport and had called into the bank to acquire some Euros for their trip to France, the following day. We were fortunate to see them, they hadn’t been home yet. We haven’t seen them since the last time we unexpectedly came across them a few years ago in Caergwrle when we were again visiting Nan’s ashes. A spooky Déjà vu! After saying Bon Voyage and before moving onto our accommodation for the night I bought a face mask off one of the market stalls, this one has a valve and promises not to fog up my glasses.

We arrived at the 13th century Ruthin Castle,  for a 3pm check-in. This time our room was located in the ancient building itself and was reached via corridors packed with heraldic paraphernalia. After depositing baggage we were eager to explore the grounds and soon exited the building. Within the grounds we discovered the Megalithic Gorsedd Stones, they have been the site of a Modern Eisteddfod Stone Circle. We next circumnavigated the castle walls, much of which are ruined and in a state of some disrepair. The main structure of the building/hotel still displays its magnificent splendour, worthy of its four-star accreditation. Appropriately, the grounds have around a dozen peacocks strutting among its various features and from the battlements we spotted a couple of wild black rabbits nibbling grass in a glade, way below. I wonder if they matter too?

With the outside thorough discovered, we entered the building and began exploring its rooms. As expected they are much changed from their original purpose but the size and richness is comparable to that of Crewe Hall. However,  we were restricted in the number of rooms we could investigate, only modern sanitised rooms were available for inspection. Most seemed fitted out to satisfy the wedding market with a medieval, heraldic touch to the proceedings.

Jamie visited a French castle, spooky eh?

We had opted not to eat our evening meal in the hotel and found this to be a major problem. It seems Wednesdays are the one evening of the week that the town restaurants and public houses choose not to open or serve meals. After much research on the internet and a phone call, we booked a table at the Golden Lion Inn, in Llangynhafal, nestling in the foothills of the Clwydian hills, approximately 4 miles from Ruthin, down narrow high hedged Welsh lanes. It had been explained that due to Covid-19 we would be eating outside under a marquee. We arrived in a shower and a gusty wind. Selecting our food from a list of BBQ options, we found our seats and then acquired some refreshments. All but one of the seven tables were occupied by hardy and hungry locals. Despite the conditions, the food came quick, and was tasty and filling. The sun did shine for a brief while, though the stiff breeze did not relent. We both agreed it was an adventure, eating alfresco on the side of a hill, with rain clouds scudding across a landscape that was for brief moments stunningly Welsh and picturesque.

It was dark and late when we returned to our castle. I wonder if it is haunted?

Peckforton Castle Hotel

06/07/20 After testing positive for coronavirus 49 have died in the UK. Belgium, the Bahamas and Andorra have been added to the UK’s coronavirus quarantine list, after a spike in cases in the affected countries.

After breakfast, we left Ruthin Castle and drove the short distance into the town. After parking up we took a wander around its small, but very quiet and pretty centre.   Here there is a small roundabout about which there is clustered a host of well-preserved medieval buildings, many with name plaques describing past occupants and their exploits. It seems that Ruthin has a very important town throughout the ages with many of its inhabitants shaping much of Britain’s history. For example,  Sir Thomas Exmewe, born c. 1454 in RuthinDenbighshire, was a member of the Goldsmiths Company. He was elected Sheriff of London in 1508 and Lord Mayor of London on 5 December 1517.  Whilst resting outside the well-preserved court house I researched Charles Mahoney, mentioned on a wall plaque placed on the wall. He was hanged from a gibbet positioned under the eaves in 1679, a sad tale of unlucky misfortune.

With our thirst for history satisfied we headed off to visit Aunty Josie in Brymbo, stopping briefly in Llandegla Forest. We had initially planned to have a short ramble through this ‘area of outstanding beauty’ but on arrival we found ourselves queuing behind a line of cars packed with mountain bikers and discovered the place itself to be a Mecca for off-road cyclists. It was far too popular for an enjoyable and quiet stroll through the Welsh countryside so we moved on.

When we arrived, we discovered the whole of Josie’s street was having its roofs replaced and the outer walls insulated by the Council, each house was covered in scaffolding and crawling with workers, it proved difficult to identify which was my aunt’s abode. Luckily, her next-door neighbour came to our rescue. After handing over a present of a large carrot cake purchased from the market in Mold, we stayed for a couple of hours chatting before leaving with a singer sewing machine and treadle stuffed into the rear of the Fiesta, a gift for Charlotte. She had accompanied us on our last visit and had admired the machine, kindly, Josie has given it to her.

We arrived at Peckforton Castle around 2pm and were one of the first to check in for that day. The castle was the location of the Kevin Costner movie, Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves. We have explored the grounds surrounding the castle and some of the internal facilities on previous occasions, but after finding our room that is what we did again. The castle is really a Victorian country house built between 1844-50 in the style of a very convincing medieval castle. Surprisingly there are only 48 rooms for guests and by late afternoon it looked as if most of those were going to be occupied, judging by the number we saw wheeling their suitcases through the portcullis. Covid-19 is obviously no deterrent to would-be Robins and Maid Marions.

We finished the afternoon off with drinks inside the library and then soaked up the last warm rays of the sun on seats by the castle walls, watching the butterflies feed on the buddleia and swifts taking insects on the wing.

We ate ‘fine dining’ in the hotel restaurant, the food was excellent and beautifully presented, but we couldn’t help being amused at the tiny portions in relation to their exorbitant cost. We completed the fantasy by taking a stroll around the violet-lit castle walls, discovering some swifts perched up among the lighting in a side entrance. A nice end to our day.

Nunsmere Hall Hotel

07/08/20 After testing positive for coronavirus 98 have died in the UK. Holidaymakers travelling to France could be the next group of Britons to face quarantine on their return to the UK amid fears the country is seeing the start of a second wave. This may cause problems for Jamie and Ruth on their return.


On a day when the south and east of the country were sweltering under 36.4 degrees of heat, in Cheshire, we were glad to be in a more manageable 26 degrees. After breakfast in Peckforton, we drove to Delamere Forest to follow one of its walking trails around the mere (small lake).  The area is pockmarked with lakes and bogs, relics of the last ice age, Delamere has over the last couple of decades suffered from natural reclamation of the surrounding forest due to draining and poor management. There are initiatives in place to reverse this process and restore it in order to encourage a greater variety of wildlife.

Our ramble took just over a couple of hours of easy walking, it was plain to see that in parts, young silver birch had grossly encroached into what must have been in the past a much more impressive lake. The well-signposted routes seemed very popular with both walkers and cyclists, we always had company on our circuit of the water. The atmosphere became quite muggy by the time we had finished, the Fiesta’s air-con was a relief as we made our way to our accommodation for the night, Nunsmere Hall Hotel.

Built around 1900 for Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, Chairman of The Brocklebank Line, and his wife Lady Grace Brocklebank, for many years it was a private residence, hosting glittering parties and gracious living for the elite of Edwardian society. After Brocklebank’s shipping business merged with the famous Cunard Company, Sir Aubrey focused on designing the landmark Atlantic liner, Queen Mary, and it is said that the beautiful lake that wraps itself around the Hall was his design inspiration.

As we arrived a couple hours too early for check-in, we inquired as to the location of a nearby pub for some refreshments. The hotel was just opening up after lockdown and all the facilities were not available at that moment. Being of the same hotel group, the receptionist happened to be the same one that checked us into Peckforton Castle.

The recommended Fishing Pool Inn proved to be an excellent suggestion. Just a short drive away had a large garden and efficient service. We sat outside, our table shaded by a large umbrella from the increasing heat of the sun. We pleasantly passed a couple of relaxing hours with drinks and people-watching.

Returning to the hotel we were the second couple to check in, the rooms being named after varieties of flora, ours was Camellia. A splendidly large room with first-class facilities. After relieving ourselves of bags we set about exploring the grounds and building. The hotel is surrounded on three sides by a deep and very pretty mere and contains lovely artistic gardens.

As a little bit of indulgence, we had booked an afternoon ‘cream tea’ and glass of prosecco at 4pm, it was served in one of the ground floor lounges overlooking the patio. Afterwards, we worked off a few of the calories on another walk around the grounds, this time making our way as far as the shore of the mere and its little hotel jetty. Watching the wildfowl arrowing across the small expanse of water with the soft glow of a late summer afternoon sky reflected on its surface, was delightful, possibly romantic, and certainly relaxing.

We spent the evening enjoying the comfort of our room and working out how to operate the supplied Magimix Nespresso machine.

After her resignation and the 1992 General Election, Margaret Thatcher stayed at Nunsmere Hall and wrote two volumes of her memoirs: ‘The Downing Street Years‘ and ‘The Path To Power‘. I am not surprised that the peace and tranquillity of the building and grounds allowed such a controversial and divisive political figure the time and space to reflect on her frenetic time in politics. Sue and I certainly felt relaxed, even with the possibility of the ghost of Mrs T disturbing our peace!

Willow Bank

08/08/20  After testing positive for coronavirus 55 died in the UK.

After a leisurely breakfast we checked out of the hotel and drove a short way up the road to Reclaimed World, a unique, family-run reclamation and antique emporium, packed full of curios. We mooched around the expansive yard for around an hour, fascinated at some of the items for sale. We considered buying a large red post box for the front of the house and spent some time trying to negotiate the hefty price, but they refused to budge and after checking on the internet I soon found one which could be had for cheaper.

Our drive home took a couple of hours.

To show our appreciation, during the evening we invited Viv and Ian around for drinks and nibbles in the garden as a thank you for looking after Jamie’s rabbit and watering the greenhouse while we were away. As they also brought their own liquid refreshments it proved to be quite a late night.

It is nice to be back home, but travel is in our DNA and this pandemic has been a constant source of irritation to itchy feet.

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