As a farming family, it’s not easy to get away for family holidays. There are cows to be milked, grass to be managed, younger stock to be herded and looked after, bulls to be fattened, dogs to be exercised and cuddled. We normally go away in January when the cows are dry (they don’t give milk for 6-8 weeks before calving), and as all the stock is indoors, they just have to be fed and checked which takes the contractor 3-4 hours per day. My parents look after the dogs and off we go. However, for a few reasons we didn’t get to go away last January and we both knew we needed a break during the summer. But how to manage it? The children are teenagers now with different interests so Brian and Will decided to go to the Le Mans 24 hour race. Kate and I opted for a more cultural holiday with more comforts. I’ve had a few people ask me if it was a guided holiday and for some details so apart from the fact that I’d like to revisit the memories, I’m going to share it here.
We flew to Bristol airport. I’m not a great traveller and was a bit perturbed to see it was a tiny propellor type plane but we got there safely albeit a slightly bumpy ride at times. I knew there was no point in having a car in Bath so had prebooked a bus to take us there. We missed the allocated time but the bus driver didn’t seem to mind that we were getting a later bus. They leave every half an hour and stop at a number of places along the way. We’d booked into a Travelodge in Bath, it was in a good central location (we were around the corner from Milsom Street and opposite the Edgar Buildings – which was where the fictional Thorpe family in Northanger Abbey took rooms), clean with comfortable beds, and we had plans for every evening so didn’t need a hotel with a nice foyer or bar.
We went to Sally Lunn’s the first evening and had arranged to meet a good friend from Salisbury there. It’s Bath’s oldest house and has a fascinating history. They recommend booking in for evening meals but that’s not necessary for lunch or tea and cake. It’s a nice place to soak up some atmosphere too.
I had prebooked tickets for some activities. These included the Jane Austen Centre. There was a talk about Jane Austen’s life and times plus a tour of the house (Jane never lived there but it’s very similar to the house where she did live, just up the road) and we spent a small fortune in the gift shop. We had intended revisiting their tearooms but never got around to it.
Next was the Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms. The museum is well worth going to with an impressive collection of clothes from the last few hundred years. And yes, we got goosebumps imagining Austen’s peers and her characters at the Assembly Rooms.
You can’t go to Bath and not visit the Pump Rooms with their fascinating Roman history. It was packed with tourists but that’s par for the course really.
Kate and I wanted to enjoy some culture while we were away so I checked to see what was on in the Theatre Royal and booked tickets for Educating Rita. Stephen Tomlinson was one of the two actors, we both enjoyed it thoroughly. We don’t get the chance to get to the theatre that often so it was a treat.
Bath has wonderful architecture and many bookshops, some selling second-hand books. I bought a set of Jane Austen novels for €18 in a charity shop even though I have copies of all of her novels at home. Although we were flying home, we’d prepared for lots of book purchases as we’d travelled over with just hand luggage, purchased a large rucksack there (Will and Brian needed one for their trip too) and had booked a 20kg bag onto the return plane. We bought at least one book in every bookshop we visited – after a while, we had to limit ourselves to one each!
We spent a very pleasant time on Wednesday strolling around Bath’s streets, finding each of the residences of Jane Austen (it was quite noticeable how her financial situation had deteriorated over the years), walking through Bath’s parks and going for a cream tea in the Pulteney Bridge tea shop (one of only four bridges in the world with shops on both sides). There was a real sense of history, of walking where Jane Austen had walked, where her fictional characters had their adventures.
I didn’t know whether to be dismayed or delighted when I spotted a copy of my book Till the Cows Come Home in the window of the Oxfam charity bookshop. Had someone handed it in because they didn’t enjoy it? I shared the image on my Facebook page and Twitter and lots of people reassured me that someone had donated it because they enjoyed it and wanted someone else to do so too. So, of course, I decided to opt for that opinion!
Three days was a perfect length of time to stay in Bath: enough time to see everything and yet include some relaxing strolling around. On the Thursday morning, we walked to Bath railway station to pick up our rental car. I was expecting Hertz to have a small area there complete with a few hire cars but we had to phone them, they came to pick us up and brought us to their garage to sort out the paperwork which all took about an hour. We drove to Lacock then, a village with many properties owned by the National Trust (I had joined the NT before we left) and used as a location in many films. We got goosebumps again as we walked down Lacock’s main street (used as Meryton in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice) with its NT gift shop and the Red Lion pub (good food). We visited the exterior of houses filmed for Harry Potter. Lacock Abbey was also used for PP and HP but is worth visiting in its own right too.
We then drove to Avebury and Silbury Hill. Kate is really interested in Stone Age history and it’s incredible to think of the work that went into putting so many stones in situ let alone building such a gigantic mound of chalky earth, similar in size to the Egyptian pyramids but not used as a burial ground.
Next on the list was Hay-on-Wye. I’d pre-booked all our accommodation partly to save the hassle of doing it when away and partly so it gave us a rough itinerary without being too dogmatic about it. Can you see a theme here? Yes, more books! We’d a lovely evening in Kilverton Hotel, right in the centre of the town and with plenty of character as well as good food. It was lashing rain the next day and we discovered we were becoming ‘booked out’ so after a few purchases in the hugely impressive cinema bookshop, we went to a lovely cafe and read for a while. There are lovely antique shops there too and if I’d been travelling home in the car, I’d have bought loads.
A Little Bit of Farming
We deliberately didn’t include any farm visits on our holiday. Partly because Kate wanted history and culture and partly because although I love farming, I want to do completely different things when I go away, I don’t really want a busman’s holiday especially after a busy year. However, I couldn’t stay away from thinking about farming women and how they are represented.
This one caught my eye because of the sheer elegance of it. The pose of the young woman made me think that she could almost be standing in a ballroom wearing a ballgown. But those aren’t lace gloves she is wearing, but nitrile. Her arms are smeared with dirt and it’s a milking gown rather than a fancy dress (if only I could look a fraction as elegant in mine). She looks poised, comfortable and competent, clearly no stranger to working with farm animals.
Another favourite is of a young woman wearing a vivid floral dress with wellies, selling her pig at the mart. I rarely wear dresses and I’d never wear one while
farming (I’m much more comfortable in jeans and a shirt) but what I loved about this was that she wasn’t trying to fit in with male attire in terms of jeans and a shirt. She was standing out, she was comfortable in a dress. As I’m typing this I’m remembering one of my tongue-in-cheek chapter titles to my book How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and it was ‘how to wear an apron and wellies with flair’, and okay, she isn’t wearing an apron but she certainly has flair. There’s much about women being able to change from farm gear to a fancy frock with heels for evening wear but this young woman had only to change the wellies for shoes and she had done it – effortlessly.
I’d love to see similar photography projects for Irish women farmers. These are realistic, down-to-earth, beautiful and fun.
Shrewsbury, Buxton, Sudbury and Lyme
We left Hay-on-Wye earlier than planned simply because of the torrential rain and the fact that our eyes couldn’t take gazing along shelves of books any more that day. Next up was Shrewsbury and as we got closer, we began to wonder what we would do that evening. We were hungry so it made sense to eat early but then, what would we do for the rest of the evening? On looking up theatres, Kate discovered that The Sound of Music was on. We couldn’t book tickets online so reset the google maps for the theatre and headed there. We secured two tickets and then discovered that the pub we were staying in was only 600 metres away. Google maps was a lifesaver by the way although it terrified me occasionally by bringing me down very narrow roads! Once we had checked in, we walked back to the theatre having got a recommendation for the pub opposite for food (I can’t remember the name of it but it was very good) and onto the show. Two shows in one week! We were spoiling ourselves. And it was excellent.
Our ultimate destination was Lyme Park before we flew home from Manchester but Sudbury Hall was enroute so that was next. I joined the National Trust before we left. It cost £78 for both of us for the year and hopefully we’ll get up to Northern Ireland for a few days. It was a lot cheaper than paying at the individual properties although we probably went to more NT properties as we had the membership. A few rooms within Sudbury Hall were used for the filming of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice TV series and yes, we got goosebumps walking around.
We stayed in Buxton for the last two nights and there were lots of restaurants and pubs nearby. We bought food for a picnic for Lyme and I was really hoping the rain would disappear. Thankfully, there was only one shower while we were there. I can understand why the carpark was so busy and why they run a shuttle bus – it’s perfect for families to spend a whole day there. The carpark is £7 for non members but was free with our membership.
They really emphasise the fact that PP 1995 was filmed there, the gift shop is full of merchandise and we loved wandering around viewing all the places where Mr Darcy and Elizabeth had met and strolled. Visitors can dress up in ‘fancy dress’ and stroll around the house then if they wish. Although lots of people tried on the clothes for photographs, they then changed back and continued on their tour. However, I’d say if the interior of the house had been used for the filming, we’d definitely have taken photos in the various rooms wearing our full length dresses and bonnets. We spent the whole day there, from around 10am to almost 6pm and I can understand why it is such a popular destination for families. A real treasure trove.
We had one morning left before going to Manchester Airport and home. The National Trust app is really handy to use especially in terms of telling you what other properties are nearby. We went to Quarry Bank (a former cotton mill) and it was only a few miles from the airport. Very different to the pomp and circumstance of the period properties with plenty of information on the conditions during Industrial times – if only our 21st century clothes weren’t made by children and adults in probably very similar circumstances in some countries. What surprised me was the size and splendour of the garden there, especially as it was on a very steep site. A period drama was being filmed while we were there so that was interesting to watch for a while – and yes, it convinced us as to the length of time that actors and extras have to stand around waiting for the call to action. I loved the enthusiasm of the employees of the volunteers and the employees at all the NT properties but I particularly loved their focus on locally sourced produce, especially icecream made from Cheshire (or whatever county we were in) cows. It really felt like farmers were being appreciated and the quality of their produce was being emphasised to all tourists.
Leaving the car back to the rental area at the airport couldn’t have been easier and we were very relieved to see that there was only a 2 minute walk to the shuttle bus (our bags contained a lot of books) and a short drive to the airport.
Where next will I visit in the UK? Well, I’d love to get up to Northern Ireland within the year and visit more NT properties as well as taking in some Game of Thrones scenes. I’d also love to see more of the Peak District next time and head across to Yorkshire. If you have any recommendations, do let me know. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – culture, history, good food, bookshops … what more would anyone want?