I can’t remember where the recommendation to stay at Lacock in Wiltshire came from but we certainly owe that person a vote of thanks.
Travelling can be quite tiring so having an opportunity to slow down for a time is greatly appreciated, and Lacock provided that opportunity.
What does one want from a B&B? Friendly hosts, a comfortable bed, a good shower, a simple continental breakfast (so one is not tempted to over-eat), ample parking and pleasant surroundings. The Old Rectory at Lacock has those. Location is also important and this B&B is only a five minutes’ walk from the centre of the delightful historic village with its pubs and restaurants.
Arriving on Sunday was not the best timing as the day was fine and the crowds were out in force. Luckily we were staying for two days and these were much more relaxing. Although the temperatures are not always as high as we would like them in the UK in May, holidaying at this time of year is a little less congested.
Apart from the houses in the village that apparently have not changed much in the last two hundred years, the 13th century Lacock Abbey was a really pleasant surprise. It survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution and the English Civil War, and became a family home for many years before being given to the National Trust and becoming a film set for Harry Potter. Another discovery was that the last private owner, William Henry Fox Talbot, was an important pioneer in photography.
Finally, Lacock is a convenient base for taking day trips to any of the numerous nearby sights, and sites, such as Castle Combe, Bath, Bradford-on-Avon, Avebury and Stonehenge to name just a few. It is well worth a visit.
Wednesday saw us leaving the Isle of Man (IOM) and embarking on a driving tour of the Heart of England across numerous counties. Our itinerary was based partly on recommended destinations, some on guidebooks and others on mere whim and wrong turns when Bruce (TomTom, who you have met before) was difficult to understand at some intersections and roundabouts.
Before leaving the Isle of Man we had met some English holiday-makers in our hotel lounge and one older gentleman, with a noticeable limp, reminisced with us about his own TT riding experience (maybe the cause of the limp) when he used to ride at over 90 mph (although today of course they reach speeds of 200 mph). He was very proud, and I daresay justifiably so, of his racing history. While hubby discussed the TT his wife gave us some recommendations of places to visit on tour towards London.
We took heed of her suggestions and the following morning set off for Nantwick in Cheshire. This proved to be another quaint town with many half-timbered buildings including The Crown pub where we stayed.
The town is known for the battle of Nantwich in 1644 when the Parliamentarians defeated the Royalists. Thursday saw us walking the town and the nearby canal with its long narrow boats before driving to Anderton and the world’s oldest operating boat lift.
Not being able to resist a boat trip we joined a bus load of tourists from Stratford-on-Avon on the River Weaver. We were the youngest on board and only got seats because two of the oldies had pulled out.
We had booked online to stay at The Crown pub, which looked like the best option in town, but believe me buildings dating back to 1585 are not always the most comfortable. Despite sleeping uphill because the floors sloped every which way and hitting our heads on low doorways and the wall next to the bed we did enjoy our stay, but two nights were enough.
Friday, and we were on our way to our next arranged destination at Yatton in North Somerset to meet up with a distant cousin. On the way we visited the market town of Ludlow in Shropshire, another of the recommendations from our IOM friends, before bedding down at the poshest digs of our tour in the Hilton near Yatton. We really needed a little bit of comfort to revitalise.
On Saturday we headed for nearby Weston-super-Mare, a favourite tourist centre in that part of the country. It was low tide and we had trouble seeing out to where the sea started.
The Grand Pier was very grand, with the biggest assortment of arcade games for kids of all ages that I have seen. Our return trip took us up through the scenic Cheddar Gorge but poor weather did not permit stopping to walk and see more of the views. The Old Inn where we had our family reunion dinner at night had the lowest ceilings and doorways to-date but was very cosy.
The Sunday drive to our next B&B at Lacock in Wiltshire was not meant to take long. We enjoyed a morning tea in Bradford-on-Avon and then took a few diversions, mainly thanks to Bruce and inputting conflicting instructions. The result was a circuitous trip through a range of typical English countryside including where over-hanging trees formed continuous tunnels, past rolling fields, through villages with their stone houses adjacent to the roadway and parked cars where waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic is necessary, and narrow one-lane roads between hedgerows and regular passing points, if you are lucky, or squeezing past with both vehicles touching the vegetation. It was fun.
The destination, Lacock, is only a small village, but has a large parking area at one end and this was completely full of visitors who had come to see the abbey and buildings that are said not to have changed much in two hundred years. The village is used for many movies and TV series because it has retained that character.
We are now in the Cotswolds and have two days to investigate this charming village and others nearby. Here, we are staying at The Old Rectory, which it once was, a large house perched on a hill in spacious grounds just five minutes walk from the village (and the George Inn). Our room, The Vestry, is spacious with ten feet high ceilings.
We already feel that we will be able to have a relaxing time before heading to our penultimate stop (before London) at Oxford.
Snaefell, the (Norse) Snow Mountain, is the highest point on the Isle of Man at 610 metres above sea level. On a clear day it is possible to see all the coasts of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Unfortunately, today was not a clear day.
The afternoon trip to Snaefell started in Douglas on the Manx Electric Railway which is a light rail (tram) service using rolling stock and permanent way dating from 1893 and some of which are still in service.
The first part of the trip is a 30-minute ride from Douglas to Laxey. It was bumpy and noisy as the train rattled and even screeched its way around the windy hilly coastline at about 20 mph, blowing its whistle at the dozens of public and private road crossings along its route.
At Laxey we changed to another train for a further 30-minute ride, climbing to Snaefell. The grade to the top averages 1 in 12 and uses a centre third rail and calliper braking system for safety.
We had made a mistake with the scheduling of our Snaefell trip because the wonderfully fine sunny day of yesterday had been replaced by a cloudy afternoon today and further deterioration was in prospect. As we climbed the mountain from Laxey the clouds enveloped the summit and started to roll downwards.
Until we disappeared into the mist we had a great view of the famous Laxey (water) Wheel and the picturesque valley. By the time we passed the level crossing of the mountain road that is part of the TT course the visibility was limited and at the summit we could see at least 20 metres in any direction.
After a short stay and warming coffee, the trip down was punctuated by a brief stop at the TT course road which was shrouded in a real “pea souper”. A bank-up of traffic in both directions and police attending suggested there was an accident in the vicinity. I wondered how TT riders would handle such conditions if they occurred in a couple of weeks time.
The weather gradually improved as we returned down to Laxey and then Douglas but the mist was now all pervading and it was difficult to see where the sea finished and the mist started.
Maintaining our sense of humour, we still had an enjoyable afternoon.
Ballaugh in a small village in the north-west of the Isle of Man, about half an hour’s scenic drive from the capital Douglas, and it has a number of claims to fame. (If you need to know more about the Isle, Wikipedia is a good start).
Probably the least important fact about Ballaugh is that it was the stomping ground of my Manx Morrison ancestors. As far as I can tell, great-great grandfather William Morrison was born in Ballaugh, as were at least two earlier generations back to the mid-1700s. More family research is required in this area.
In terms of real fame, the village is on the Isle of Man TT course and famous, or maybe notorious, because of the Ballaugh Bridge where bikes usually become airborne as they scream through. The bridge was the site of a death a couple of years ago when a rider struggling with brake problems hit the wall of The Raven pub at an estimated 170mph.
Being one of the more dangerous motor cycle circuits, primarily because it all on public roads, there is a lot of significant padding around poles and buildings next to the road to help protect riders who come to grief. The Raven pub has always been padded but the publican advised that since the tragedy the padding has been doubled.
That leads me to another point. The Raven was visited during an earlier Manx tour that I took with brother Trevor in 2010, for a meal and a pint. I was instructed that I really did need to make a return visit and being an obedient child we decided to stop there for a pub lunch.
Again it was most pleasant and maybe could have been more so if I wasn’t driving. Apart from providing a great value pub lunch (I had my usual soup) I tried the Raven’s Claw ale brewed especially for The Raven and can attest to its quality. It is apparently a very popular brew and the publican advised that during the two weeks of the TT, he sells over 4,000 pints. This has contributed to making The Raven the number one pub on the Isle of Man.
Leaving Scotland, we drove into the English county of Cumbria. The first major town we came to was Carlisle and this is the part of the world that was the home of my Brisco(e) ancestors.
The village of Brisco, named for that family, is just south of Carlisle, but about six miles south-west (on the A595) is the Village of Thursby and a little further along, just before crossing the River Wampool is the entrance to the former Crofton Hall, the family estate. This area was previously known as Cumberland.
The stone arch entrance is almost all that remains of the former elegant house and grand estate that was the home of the Brisco family from about 1400 to the early 1900s. My particular branch of the Briscoes, together with a chance in spelling moved to Ireland, probably in the 1600s, but my ancient roots are still here.
A great deal of history can be learned from local churches and graveyards, so after visiting Crofton we decided to see if there was any family history to be found in the village church at Thursby. The small St Andrew’s church offered up a real surprise because inside was the Crofton Chapel with memorials to a number of Briscos of Crofton. These were not all my direct ancestors but certainly distance relatives.