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Published: December 27th 2023
Decisions. Decisions. We had just been to the North East for the Outlaw's milestone birthday, but the prospect of back to back home games - Saturday and Tuesday - was quite tempting. The continued wet December could scupper the idea - those in the know realise that despite recent drainage improvements, waterlogging is never very far off the radar. However, the statement by the Northern Premier League put paid to any wavering. Both games were postponed. It was nothing to do with water, although I suspect that the Saturday would have been anyway. No, financial infringements were at play. The "real" MUFC and their precarious monetary position were deemed to have broken League regulations - correctly it would appear, I might add - and the playing licence was withdrawn. The price of salvation? Guarantees of £120,000 in place within 2 weeks! A tall order indeed. It wasn't exactly the sort of sum to worry the boys in the other Theatre of Dreams, but as far as I know Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his Ineos group hasn't expressed an interest in expanding his sporting investment portfolio in the direction of Teesside by the Seaside. A bit of a bad dream all round
for a non league village team batting well above their status in the first place. Where do you start raising that sum from a population of 8,000 and an average gate south of 500. The rollercoaster journey might just be about to end in tears. I hatched an alternative plan in an opposite direction.
A Christmas present plan had originally been hatched with big sister. A mutually convenient, sort of half way meeting in Leamingtion for lunch was muted. The Fox & Vivian had proved an excellent choice in the past. It was subsequently confirmed, but deferred due to her alternative engagements. I agreed to an another mission to her base in deepest Gloucestershire and threw in an overnight on route. Hotel confirmed, she cancelled due to illness. The best laid plans of mice and men. We could have chosen to just not bother and written it off to experience, but for reasons I won't explain circumstances might not permit for too much longer. We therefore found ourselves on a random journey regardless, although some would say that they are often the best.
The M42 round the southern perimeter of Birmingham was its usual self. Speed restrictions have
Edward Elgar Statue
been in place for what seems like an eternity, as the much vaunted HS2 project crosses the motorway to what is its now final destination. The so called "levelling up" of the country ends at Birmingham folks. So much disruption and for what? A marginally shorter journey time to London from somewhere that is actually quite close in relative terms anyway. If they had finished it earlier, a few more folk could have nipped down to the capital to laugh at a bloke in a Grimsby Town bobble hat, telling us we all blew this Covid party stuff out of proportion. We pressed on south. The M5 behaved itself and we soon turned off on the M50. It was a bit like driving in the Florida Keys - surrounded by water on both sides. The never ending rainy season has left a lot of land submerged under floodwaters. As on cue, the heavens opened further. It never rains, but it pours. Fortunately, things were looking a bit brighter by the time we reached our initial destination for the trip - Ledbury.
Herefordshire has largely been a mystery to us. We went hunting the famed black and white villages in
the summer of 2022 and I have to say, they were indeed impressive. Timber framed buildings by the bucket load make some wonderful photographs. The whole ambience of the trip was good and it made me wonder why we had never visited before. I had the same feeling, as I studied the stilted and very unusual Market Hall. It was a magnificent structure to behold, even on a drab winter afternoon such as today when the light was poor. A true "Box of Delights", although nothing to do with one of the greatest works by one of the towns most famous former citizens - John Masefield. Masefield capped his distinguished literary career with his appointment as Poet Laureate in 1930. He held the title between 1930 and 1967 - the 33 years in post only surpassed by Tennyson. The Grade 1 listed building which also doubled as the Town Council meeting room until 2004, was completed in 1617. It's half timbered black and white upper floor sits on 16 oak posts and has survived a minor Civil War skirmish, as the Royalists and Roundheads fought for control of the locality. Today, the south end was masked by a Christmas tree
and a few locals sheltered from the sharp showers under the canopy.
John Masefield isn't the only connection between Ledbury and poetic verse. Elizabeth Barret Browning and Rupert Brooke are just two of the names, who have lived in or around the town. Hay on Wye has its book festival. Ledbury has a poetry festival in the calendar each June. New York might be the Big Apple, but Ledbury has the festival of the same name. A celebration of all things cider draws on the produce of the local orchards.
It was very much a case of dodging the rain today and whilst there was a temporary break, we took the opportunity to walk up probably the most picturesque street in town - Church Lane as opposed to Church Street, which winds round behind towards Church Road and the Church of St Michael and All Angels. Church Lane is the typical, quintessential view of a street in old England. Cobbles and timber framed buildings make it an artist's dream - if you can get a view without the masses walking up it. The weather in some ways made today a good day for this particular venture and footfall
was low. We circumnavigated the churchyard at the top, where Vera would tell you for all the architectural wonders on view that this was a good place to hunt squirrels. I liked the look of the Prince of Wales pub half way up the Lane - "dogs and muddy boots welcome", but the need to drive on later scuppered any thoughts of settling in for the afternoon. One for the future in the memory bank. The Other Half had decided lunch was in order, so we retreated to the nearby Malthouse on the opposite side of the Lane. It appeared a great many others had a similar thought pattern - the place was packed. Reservation signs adorned a few tables even on a drab weekday, which suggested booking might be a good idea on a sunny summer day. Covid has left a legacy of outdoor dining previously untapped in the UK and The Malthouse had covered their courtyard to maximise table covers. The clear canopy roof and outdoor heaters made it a more attractive option than would otherwise be imagined in December and we settled on the last available table. The Malthouse served a wide menu from coffee and cake,
through to lunches. We dined on the soup of the day - a Moroccan tomato - which I have to say was both excellent and excellent value. The location on Church Lane was a bit of an open chequebook opportunity to hike prices, but I was pleasantly surprised by the good value, fayre on offer and friendly service. This is a big compliment,, when folk with Yorkshire on the birth certificate think something is value! Oh and of course, The Malthouse was the essential requirement to us these days of being dog friendly.
Fed and watered, we pressed on to explore the independent shopping possibilities of Ledbury. In a world of corporate takeover, the independent shop often struggles. In Ledbury, independence is clearly cherished and in turn supported by locals and visitors alike. I couldn't possibly list them all individually, but one that spring to mind were Hus & Hem - a Scandi shop tucked away up an alley in the Design Quarter. Hay Wines and the Wine Shed suggested that the good people of Ledbury have a taste for decent tipple and the craft ale choice in the former was a very tempting array of produce. Tinsmiths display
of fabrics and homewares appealed to the Other Half, as did the home of the ultimate flat weave carpet runner in the Roger Oates showroom. We wandered up to house known as The Park on the corner of Worcester Road and The Southend. The original sections of the property date from 1590. The house - once known as the New House - was constructed for a prominent local family, the Biddulphs. Unfortunately today, the imposing black and white building is caught up in the traffic congestion of this busy crossroads. The Feathers Hotel is a similarly eye catching property and seemed busy with folk enjoying a Friday afternoon tipple. The Other Half and I often wonder hypothetically if we could live in some of the places we visit in the UK. There is often a very good financial reason why it wouldn't be possible with crazy prices of property. Similarly some places are just too inconvenient for transport or other facilities, which would cause problems going forward. Of course, others are just too hectic for our lifestyle these days. We asked the same questions of Ledbury and hospital aside, it honestly does tick a lot of boxes.
The former Crown Hotel
for an overnighter in the Malvern Hills. The Malvern Hills Hotel was just a few miles up the road and was our destination. It was a steady climb, but as it was dark by now the scenery would have to wait until morning. The reception was friendly, the parking ample, the room was spacious and it proved a decent choice. The two restaurants were out of bounds with the dog, but the bar was more to our liking anyway. The 4 legged crew were well represented among the clientele. The real ale choice on the bar included a selection from both the Wye Valley and Ledbury Ales stables and both were very acceptable. The meal was hearty and they certainly weren't scrimping on the portion size in the hope of additional profit from dessert sales. The rain was lashing down in the morning, so the geographical vistas from the hotel were not initially obvious. Low cloud shrouded everything. The good news was that the full English breakfast was distracting, whilst the rain moved on. We set off up to the British Camp, the path to which was directly opposite the hotel. British Camp sounds like some form of army barracks,
but is in fact an old Iron Age fort dating from the 2nd Century BC. I guess the full effect would be visible from an aerial drone shot, but the earthworks are still surprisingly visible. The views stretch for miles - west towards Herefordshire and Wales; east towards Malvern and Worcestershire.
We checked out and drove down to Malvern. Great Malvern to be precise, to distinguish it from the other Malverns. Large Victorian villas commanded the ridge looking east. The Victorians came for the spring water and to take healthy exercise in the clean air away from the industrial West Midlands. By coincidence, we parked up directly outside the property where it all began in earnest. The former Crown Hotel on the Bellevue Terrace was where Doctors Wilson and Gully launched their "water cure" in 1842. The wealthy were soon queuing up for the treatment featuring the local Malvern water, some costing up to 4 guineas a week. Big money! It all happened on this short stretch of road. In the 1850s a few doors down, John Lea and William Perrins devised the recipe for a tasty sauce after a commission from a Lord Sandys. They were looking to
Foley Hotel aka Wetherspoons
create a sauce similar to that the good Lord had enjoyed in Bengal. The result was Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. William's grandson would go on to fund Malvern Hospital and endow the town's library
The gardens in front of the old Crown Hotel commanded a view over the lower town and beyond. A statue of one of Malvern's most famous former residents enjoys the view today. Edward Elgar - he of Land of Hope & Glory and composer of international stature - lived at Forli, Alexandra Road from 1891. He later moved to Malvern Wells, where wrote Pomp & Circumstance aka Land of Hope & Glory and spent a total of 13 years in the area before moving on to Hereford. 1891 was a pivotal year for Malvern in terms of important people. The Foley Arms Hotel was a grand looking building, somewhat spoiled by the modern accessory of a number of wheelie bins out front. In the day, it was licensed to let Post horses and had carriages for hire. The building had a prestigious past. Queen Mary, consort of King George V, stayed for 6 weeks in 1891 and her Royal crest is over the entrance
at front of the building. I wonder what she would make of the current incarnation of the building as a Wetherspoon's pub.
We dined in Faun, which occupies part of the old Brays Department Store on the section of Worcester Road also known as The Promenade. Brays had been in situ since 1895, but was a victim of the owners retirement decision and modern retail trends. Faun was packed - a mix of visitors and locals and four legged friends - enjoying a bit of Saturday brunch. The other new businesses occupying the old premises also seem to be thriving. The Other Half was quite taken by Austin & Co .... not just a card shop, but an art gallery in miniature. We headed down into town, after a circumnavigation of the Priory Church which nestles below Elgar's view. Small independent shops dominate, each with something to offer although I couldn't bring myself to make a vinyl purchase at prices being asked in the record shop I located. It was time to head home - the plan to catch a few minutes of Malvern Town's match scuppered by their insistence at wanting full admission price even after half time.
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