Castles and Caves

Scan of Sarah’s baby.

The heat experienced towards the end of July returned at the beginning of August, we hadn’t had much rain for several months and the gardens and fields had been suffering. The ground is bone dry and hard, digging the last of the potatoes was hard and dusty work! Despite a hose pipe ban being declared in much of the country we have so far escaped its enforcement in Leicestershire and my vegetables, fruit, borders and lawns are benefitting.

On the morning of the 8th Aug. Sue took me for an eye injection in Wigston,  afterwards, she attended a U3A history talk in Harborough while I rested and listened to music in the lounge, letting Lucentis do its magic.

Early on the 10th, Sue and I drove to The Bede House in Lyddington. It was a sweltering morning and roaming the cool inside of this fabulous historic building was a welcome activity. It originated as the medieval wing of a palace belonging to the Bishops of Lincoln. By 1600 it had passed to Sir Thomas Cecil, son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, who converted it into an almshouse for 12 poor ‘bedesmen’ over 30 years old and two women (over 45), all free of lunacy, leprosy or the French pox. Apart from another couple we had the place to ourselves and wandered freely, taking in the history and atmosphere of the building through its many descriptive information boards. For later consumption, on leaving I purchased a bottle of ‘Wassail’ beer from the small gift shop.

We next drove the short distance to visit the next historical building on our day’s itinerary, one of England’s greatest Elizabethan and 17th-century houses,  Kirby Hall. Again, the cool innards of this magnificent, but part derelict building provided a refreshing shelter from the growing furnace outside. We picked up the necessary little gadgets at the entrance and followed the Audio Tour around the house and gardens. Some of the rooms have been fully restored while most others remain dilapidated, but are visible through barred-off windows or doors. In its heyday, this was an opulent place to live, a stark contrast to the nearby remains of the medieval village of Kirby, much of which was destroyed to build the hall, while its residents were employed as staff. Before exploring the grounds, we picnicked under the welcome shade of a large chestnut tree, feeding one of the many resident peacocks seen strutting the lawns with crumbs and crisps. Again, before leaving we patronised the gift shop, this time coming away with a flagon of scrumpy, which later proved to be a disappointment with a quite unpleasant taste.

While Sue and I had our feet firmly on the ground absorbing ourselves in the past, Ellis was up in the clouds again, this time on a powered flight over the parched fields of Northamptonshire, taking a flying lesson from Sywell Aerodrome.

Over the next few days, the heat continued to build causing me to replan the route of a 10-mile ramble with Sean to Arthingworth for lunch. Judiciously we opted for lunch at the Swan in Braybrook, coping with the 5-mile trek and a great loss of fluid with further vital refreshments in the Oathill in Little Bowden. Sue was also braving the conditions with a U3A nature group ramble and lunch at the ‘not-so-wet, wetlands at Cossington Meadows. During the evening the oppressive heat still had its heavy hand on the UK, inviting our group of chums to sit outside and natter whilst not playing during the now regular Thursday night pool sessions in the garden room.

The pool table got another workout on the following evening as the male members of the clan gathered for a Pie and Pool night. During the afternoon the temperature hit an oppressive 42°C. It relented very little by the evening making it too muggy to play the alternative activity of table tennis on the patio. Hence, Sue organised an impromptu game of croquet on the lawn until the midges became too aggressive. Forced to retire to the sanctuary of the airconditioned garden room we finished off the evening with ’round robin’ games of pool.

The following morning we journeyed to Newbold Verdon for a BBQ lunch with Sarah and family. It was another scorcher of a day forcing a cancellation of the usual walk with Mia, leaving a panting canine in the cool of the house we walked to the village library to exchange some jigsaws before Lee set about the business of preparing lunch. After many games of hide and seek with a persistent Alice, lunch was eventually ready and calm descended. We sat and nattered on the patio set in the shade of the house until 3 pm when Sue and I had to leave for Willow Bank as we had promised to have drinks with our next neighbours, Mike and Claire at 4 pm.

We arrived on time and enjoyed snacks and refreshments until around 6 pm. Claire’s parents joined us for a while before they departed for a fish and chip tea. Our hosts were keen to see the garden room so before finishing the evening entertainment we relocated there for further drinks until 7 pm.

On Sunday (14th Aug), Sarah woke quite ill, she couldn’t keep any food or drink down and we thought had probably picked up a bug. Lee rang the doctor and advised that Sarah should go to the Leicester Royal Infirmary and be placed on a drip to rehydrate. It was late that night and after two bags of intravenous saline solution before she was feeling well enough to be released home. No doubt in sympathy, I too felt unwell the following morning and spent the next two days in bed with a temperature and stomach ache. At the same time, Lee succumbed to the mystery illness but managed to remain on his feet. The suspicion is that the three of us were suffering from a dose of food poisoning, though it is strange that Sue did not succumb, which points to the probable culprit, mini sausage rolls, of which Sue only had one.

Harry sympathising with Sarah and I.

In between bouts of deep sleep, I still managed to organise the next away jaunt with my ex-rugby playing chums. On the 12th of March next year, six of us will be flying to Marrakesh in Morocco for a week and a spot of desert camel riding.

The illness of Sarah and I caused Ruth to have a small problem. She and Joey are cruising to Norway which requires the permission of Ruth’s ex-partner to take Joey. At first, this was given, but much later and after booking, he withdrew it. This required Ruth to take him to court to ensure that all was legal, she asked Sarah to accompany her to the court hearing on Monday (Sarah works in the court system and knew the judge), but unfortunately became ill. I was due to step in and provide support, but I too fell ill. Thankfully, a fit and healthy friend of Ruth’s volunteered to give her the moral support that she needed in court. However, her ex-partner failed to turn up and the ruling went against him and she was granted permission to take Joey abroad.

Breaking News: It’s a boy! After Sarah’s next scan it was confirmed that there will be another male in the Price house and the competition among the family members to guess his name will be hotting up to Christmas. Hmmmmm ……. could be Christopher?

Early on Saturday, Jamie visited briefly with Ruth, Joey and the dogs on their way to Southampton. Thankfully, Ruth’s ex had caused no further issues and Joey was free to join his mother on a week’s cruise up the Norwegian fjords. Jamie was taking them to the port and staying overnight in a hotel before returning, we were looking after the dogs until then. It all went to plan; Ruth and Joey sailed away that evening and Jamie after a night out in Southampton collected the hounds the following afternoon.

Sue’s birthday was on the following Tuesday, as a present, I had decided to utilise our English Heritage membership to visit a few of its properties. I booked a hotel for a couple of nights to visit nearby Bolsover Castle, founded in the late 11th century by William Peveril, one of William the Conqueror’s knights, but it was neglected from the mid-14th century. From its ruins, the Little Castle was built in 1612 by Sir Charles Cavendish as a retreat from his principal seat at Welbeck.

We travelled up to the area on Monday morning, stopping in the small village of Langwith for a walk and to see Langwith Cave situated on the north side of the Poulter Valley, some 6m above the valley floor. The cave has produced Neolithic material, in the form of human burial and a small fragment of an infant’s skull, I thought it would appropriately set the scene for the rest of the day. We parked nearby in the local pub and with my GPS pointing the way, had a short and pleasant walk past the church and into the small valley, crossing a crystal clear stream by way of a narrow wooden footbridge. The cave was visible from the opposite side of the valley and proved easy to enter. Though not large it was easy to imagine why it was used as a shelter back in the mists of time. At the rear there appeared to be several tunnels leading off into the hillside but these were blocked by debris from the roof and silted soil, who knows what treasures lay beyond? Curiosity satisfied we retraced our steps to the pub, continuing along the road before plunging into Langwith Woods for the start of a short invigorating, circular walk.

For the afternoon I had arranged for a private tour in Cresswell Crags of the Pin Hole Cave (Hyena’s Den), so with our ramble completed we drove just a mile beyond the village to Poulter Country Park and the start of the Archaeological Trail, here we sat on a bench overlooking a small pretty pond and ate our picnic lunch, feeding a small shoal of ravenous fish with our crusts before moving on just a few miles more.

Creswell Crags is a spectacular magnesian limestone gorge straddling the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. It is dotted with a large number of caves, fissures and rock shelters, many of which harboured secrets from our Prehistoric past. Archaeologists have been excavating these caves since the 19th Century when the Victorians first discovered the artefacts that lay beneath the cave floors. In Pin Hole Cave evidence was discovered of it being used as a Hyena’s den, as well as a human habitation. We had booked parking for three hours and arrived at 2 pm, giving us an hour and a half to explore the exhibition and crags independently before the tour began at 3. 30 pm.  Sue and I came here many years ago, then it was just a small brick-built museum containing a few artefacts and a nettly, overgrown trail, passing by several barred entrances to caves set in exposed parts of the cliff, running alongside a silted lake. As a child, I had cycled here on several occasions with friends and played in some of the caves, in those days the entrances had no metal doors and many of the 20 or so caves visible and researched today were unknown, hidden behind thick mats of creepers and guarded by legions of stinging nettles and thorny brambles.

After showing our membership cards and scoffing an ice cream we set about discovering what delights the associated exhibition hall had to offer. A short video of the crags through the millennia was well done and was an excellent introduction to the rest of the displays. All of the artefacts on show were found either inside or around the entrance to the caves and were described in context. As usual, we read all of the information boards, concentrating most on those relating to evidence of occupation by a family of hyenas. It was forecast for showers throughout the day and as we moved outside to tackle the trail that circumnavigated the lake that hippo’s used to wallow in, we felt a few spots of rain. We completed the trail in the dry and returned to the centre for refreshments in the cafe before meeting up with our guide.

The first stop was the exhibition hall where we were treated to a more in-depth explanation of each of the items seen earlier. Pin Hole Cave is the least visited of those on-site and is one of the furthest away from the centre. It was on our way there that the rain began and it was a welcome relief to seek the shelter of this cliff dwelling. We had been kitted out with hard hats and lamps for our excursion underground and these proved to be essential to see any detail at all. Excavations are still ongoing here and there was much evidence of the work. This cave is important not just for its past human habitation but also because it was once home to a family of hyenas. Archaeologists are still working their way through the habitation levels so we had to be careful as to where we went and what we touched, but small bones could be seen sticking out from the walls along with other interesting structures.

It was 5 pm by the time we left the cave and the rain was pouring down, it was three bedraggled modern hominids who eventually reached the sanctuary of the exhibition building.

It took a tricky half-hour drive along narrow country lanes to reach our accommodation for the next two nights, the Twin Oaks Hotel, situated near the M1 motorway. We had our evening meal in the hotel restaurant finishing the night off watching TV in our room which afforded a lovely distant view of the coming day’s escapade, Bolsover Castle.

Breakfasted, on a bright and humid morning we set off to Bolsover. Built-in the early 17th century, the present castle lies on the earthworks and ruins of the 12th-century medieval castle; the first structure of the present castle was built between 1612 and 1617 by Sir Charles Cavendish. Finding the carpark situated below the castle walls was a little tricky, its entrance was narrow and not obvious, we were the first car there. We spent a couple of hours roaming the site. The Cavendish’s certainly would have had an enviable life, many of the rooms in the  Little Castle are preserved as best they could be making it easy to imagine the opulent lifestyle. Charles, as well as a talented musician and supporter of the arts,  was an accomplished horse rider and loved to ride through the adjoining deer park with his good friend who lived in the Baroque-style, manor house across the valley with the 4th Earl of Scarsdale.

There is a five-mile circular walk between these two grand buildings, having exhausted our curiosity about Bolsover Castle we set off to follow its course. The descent through the town, down to the valley floor was very steep and didn’t bode well for our return as the humidity level had increased. Passing by several ponds/lakes, built as part of the deer park, we had difficulty crossing a recently harrowed field before crossing the MI motorway by way of a small road bridge. Another steep climb through fields brought us to the ha-ha surrounding the frontage of Sutton Scarsdale Hall. The ruins are the remnants of a once majestic interior, visible only through the ‘skeleton’ of the building. Extensive restoration is presently taking place and access is very limited. Sue couldn’t climb the ha-ha and remained behind while I had a quick sorte to the fence barring internal entry. On further investigation I discovered a small carpark at the rear of the property being used by the masons engaged in the restoration, so on joining Sue we decided to finish our ramble, and then return to the Hall by car.

The route back was easier, crossing the motorway by way of a field tunnel. On reaching the foot of the slope to the castle I left Sue to have a rest while fetching the car, as the humidity was taking its toll on her energy levels. It had taken a couple of hours to walk the circular path, but just ten minutes to drive back to the Hall. The masons had left, but two other cars were parked up with equally curious tourists photographing the relic of a building. We walked around the building, taking in the information boards as we came across them. I am not surprised that the demise of this building was through the negligent use of the family finances, trying to keep up with the Joneses has its problems! The Hall with its lavish decorations must have been a horrendous money-pit. John Arkwright, a descendant of the industrialist Richard Arkwright, bought the hall, but in 1919 the family sold it to a company of asset strippers. Many of its finely decorated rooms were sold off as architectural salvage and the house was reduced to a shell. Three of the interiors are displayed at the Museum of Art in Philadelphia.

Lazily, we chose to eat in the Hotel restaurant that night, retiring early to our room after a short walk around the grounds before watching TV and sleep.

As it was just a couple of miles away, after breakfast we chose to visit Hardwick Old Hall. It was built between 1587 and 1596 by Bess of Hardwick, who was among the richest and best-connected women of the Elizabethan age. Unfortunately, it too is being extensively renovated and the masons were hard at work chipping away at the stonework behind fencing and scaffolding. However, the delightful drive through its associated deer park and copious information boards made up for being unable to roam this relic of the past.

The main focus of today was to visit Ashby-de-la Zouch Castle and that is where we headed next. A half an hour drive along country roads in a part of the country I have never been brought us to the town of Ashby, where we (with difficulty) managed to find and fit in the only space left in the municipal carpark close to the castle. A short walk brought us to this once 12th-century manor house. William, Lord Hastings adapted the relatively modest manor house in 1472–3, but by the time of his sudden fall from grace and execution in 1483 only about half of his grand design had been realised. The castle remained in use as the main family seat of his descendants, playing a prominent part in the Civil War, when it was held for the king. It is probably best known for when in 1819 the novelist Sir Walter Scott published a medieval romance, Ivanhoe. A tournament scene in the novel was set at Ashby and since then many visitors have flocked to see the castle ruins, including ourselves!

We followed an excellent audio trail around the building and grounds, the script was quite humorous, gently transporting you back in time, filling your mind with visions of castle life and the privileges of the aristocracy.  Well done English Heritage, a brilliant introduction to the history of the castle. With still one hour left on our parking ticket so we chose to investigate the High Street and we were impressed. A lovely array of shops and plenty of medieval frontages to stand and stare at. There was a charming indoor market where I bought myself a watch with a big enough dial for me to read without searching for my glasses. A bargain at £6.95!

The route home took us through Newbold Verdon so we called in to see Sarah and family. Sadly, Alice was at the child-minders and Mia was with the dog-walker so we only stayed long enough to have coffee and a chat with Sarah and Lee. They seemed well and are getting prepared for the arrival of the baby boy. We called into a small, shoe outlet warehouse in the village before continuing our journey home and yet again I dipped into my wallet, this time buying a pair of leather shoes for £5.95!

The following day I had organised a walk with Sean to Wadenhoe, but it turned out to be a much busier day than planned. Wadenhoe was chosen because a friend of ours (rugby chum) is buried there and we wished to visit his grave and interrogate the landlord of the local pub as to a few issues concerning his death.

As I picked Sean up at 8.30 am he took a phone call from Peter Howard who is also a friend and director of Leicester Tigers. I had been planning to watch the Tigers that evening play Newcastle on the TV but Peter offered us four complimentary, corporate tickets for the game. We accepted.

It was a 35-minute drive to the King’s Head in the gorgeous 800-year-old village of Wadenhoe and luckily the landlord came to speak to us as we parked. Our rugby chum had died in 2016 in mysterious circumstances and it was rumoured that his wife had ‘bumped’ him off. The coroner decreed that he should be buried rather than cremated and the last we heard was that his son (from a previous marriage) had pushed for his body to be exhumed and analysed. The landlord informed us that the body hadn’t been ‘dug-up’, but his wife was not liked in the village and she was suspected of skullduggery as at the time she was having an affair. Soon afterwards she sold the house and moved away with her lover. Sadly, despite him being a multi-millionaire his grave is unkempt and overgrown. Rumours still abound.

Our circular walk of 8 miles took us to Lyvedon New Build, an unfinished Elizabethan summer house constructed for Sir Thomas Tresham in 1604–05. Unlike myself, Sean hadn’t been here before so we spent some time satisfying his curiosity before we carried on with 0ur ramble, blackberry scoffing at every opportunity with the occasional munching of plums and apples picked along the way. We arrived back at the riverside pub in time for a very acceptable ploughman’s lunch and a couple of refreshing drinks before arriving back in Harborough at 3 pm.

Early in the evening, Sean drove into Leicester, picking myself, Jim and Paul up on the way. We had a very substantial three-course meal in the Director’s Lounge before making our way to our seats on the halfway line for a 7 pm kick-off. At halftime we enjoyed cheese, crackers and chutneys washed down with refreshments in the lounge before again taking our seats. At the final whistle, the Tigers had run out winners against a very useful and speedy Newcastle side, in celebration we scoffed after-match sausage rolls, washed down with suitable lubrication. On the way back to Harborough, paused for further refreshments at the Coach and Horses in Kibworth. A long tiring day, but greatly enjoyable.








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