Monday, April 17, 2023

Strange Days

 April is being appropriately unpredictable, but so much for April showers!  We've had wall to wall rain in recent days.  It's usually the case that just as our magnolia tree blossoms, the blooms are decimated by the elements.

Still, we took advantage of the brief window of opportunity offered up by Easter Saturday's sunny interlude...

...and set about creating a bark chip path from the centre of our garden, up and around the side of the pond.  As per any task in our garden, it took three times as long as it should have done, courtesy of the numerous pebbles lurking just beneath the soil in any given spot.  Gareth marked the path out and loosened the soil, I turned it over with a garden fork and then we both painstakingly pulled pebbles - large and small - out of the ground and threw them into a bucket.  Upon completion of the task, we had a bucket full.  I'll rinse them off at some point and use them elsewhere to decorative effect.

We also agreed to allow the teen of the house to throw a party over the Easter holidays, forcing us to address niggles with the interior, including re-arranging of furniture (never underestimate the joy of a fresh layout) and the removal of a now redundant fire hood from our kitchen diner fireplace, which was finished with a fresh coat of paint and the addition of a fire extinguisher lamp to light the void.

We also used a pallet to create a shelving unit.  I have big ideas for this, but on the day of the party, was permitted one shelf (the middle one) to decorate as I chose - opting to disguise the uprights with pinned postcards and photographs and adding my eclectic mix of nature finds (pine cones, granite crystal, a crow's skull), a vintage tea pot, tea lights and a crystal ball.  The boys took over the other two.  I've only just spotted a Danger Explosives sign has also infiltrated my shelf.  The booze and blow lamps will not be permanent fixtures!

Lotte wisely gave us a wide berth and slept the day away on the bed upstairs.  I prefer for her winter coat not to be left behind on my clean sheets, so use a honeycomb blanket during the day, which she makes good use of.

On Friday, I braved the wind and rain to pick up some weekend and party supplies.  On my list was "plasters" as I'd recently noticed we had none in our medicine box.  This decision must have been prophetic, as on the way into Morrisons, battling with what turned out to be a broken umbrella I'd found on the rear seat of the car, I cut my right hand index finger across the middle joint.  Initially it looked like a paper cut, but within seconds had started to bleed profusely.  I headed straight to the pharmacy and tried not to bleed all over their counter.  The supermarket's first aider provided me with a plaster and something to stem the bleeding before I was advised to clean myself up in the toilets and report back to the pharmacist so that she could assess the damage.  She thought I needed a stitch.  Having planned an evening out with Sarah to mark our recent birthdays, an evening in A&E was not something I relished.  

I promptly took myself off to another local pharmacy to track down some adhesive stitches and some bandages, which the second pharmacist thought should do the trick.  I agreed to monitor it for a couple of days.  Mercifully, after applying the stitches and adding two bandages, the bleeding seemed to slow and I felt more confident in my decision.

I met Sarah at the Thai restaurant just around the corner for an evening of cocktails and curry.  I snapped the interior of the restaurant - the former function room of the adjoining real ale pub "The Woodman" - whilst waiting for Sarah.

We were so busy catching up, that I only remembered that we hadn't taken a photograph of the occasion as we left.  Sarah took this atmospheric shot of the two of us illuminated by the pub's doorway.  Classy eh?

Over the weekend, having exhausted most of the National Trust properties in our area, we decided to head out to Wenlock Edge to visit a more unusual property, namely Wilderhope Manor.  Wilderhope is a grade one listed gabled Elizabethan manor house built from local limestone for one Francis Smallman in 1585.  So far, so generic National Trust.  Except it isn't.  If you come expecting walls weighed down by works of art and rooms stuffed full of antiques, you will be sorely disappointed.  The manor remained in the Smallman family until 1734 when it was sold to Thomas Lutwyche.  However, it is not believed to have been used as a main residence after this time and by 1936, was in a poor state and unoccupied.  In 1937, the property was purchased by W.A. Cadbury trust and soon after, John Cadbury donated Wilderhope to the National Trust on condition that it was used for a Youth Hostel...and so it remains to this day.

It was at this point, I realised that I'd committed the ultimate photographer's faux pas and failed to check I had a memory card in the camera.  I hadn't.  I therefore relied on my smart phone, which turned out to be perfectly adequate for my needs that day.

Once inside, the atmosphere changed.  With no one there to greet us, the place appeared to be deserted, apart from one other couple who disappeared through the doors heading towards the upper floors.  Were they visitors like us?  Did they volunteer there?  Unsure how to proceed - it is a Youth Hostel after all - we tentatively moved through the building, trying to make sense of the strange vibes the property was emitting.  I knew very little about the property.  The guidebook mentions that the manor is Elizabethan and a Youth Hostel, but little else of note.

I loved the faded grandeur of the bunting against peeling plaster and the sixteenth century fireplace.

There was some impressive plasterwork on display, just visible in this photo.  For obvious reasons, we felt like intruders and I think this was reflected in my photos.

In a room empty apart from a couple of chesterfield sofas, there was what appeared to be a portrait of a former feline resident on the window ledge.  No explanation, just a framed photo.  The place had an air of mystery.

We headed into the corridor and took to the winding staircase, an incredible feat of workmanship, carved out of solid blocks of oak....

...passing windows framing moody looking landscapes, the majority glazed to this day with their original 16th century glass.

The upper floors were a maze of corridors and dormitories, including one named after Thomas Smallman himself, a major in the Royal Army and whose ghost is said to haunt the property.  There have been numerous sightings of Thomas.  Allegedly there is a second ghost, a young girl who greets those she encounters with a friendly smile shortly before following up with a blood curdling scream.

I have only ever stayed in one youth hostel and that one is certainly eclipsed by Wilderhope in terms of style and comfort.  It soon became clear that no one was in residence this weekend.

Check out the master suite and bathroom.  Impressive!

I was also fascinated to learn that the Youth Hostel is available for exclusive use hire (including the kitchen) at a price of £700.00 per night.  Given that the property sleeps 40, it would make an amazing party pad! YHA Wilderhope Manor Hostel | Cheap Shropshire Accommodation & Camping
The property is off the beaten track, with footpaths and commanding views over the fields and valley beyond; a really remarkable place.  However, the spectre of Thomas Smallman looms large in the area.

The story goes that Thomas was on horseback, tasked with delivering despatches to Royalist headquarters in the market town of Shrewsbury.  In hot pursuit were Cromwell's men.  Once on the edge, Cromwell's men gained ground and Thomas was forced to take a leap of faith, jumping off a precipice.  Little did he realise that there was a drop of some 200 feet beyond.  Luckily for Thomas a large crab apple tree broke his fall and he survived to tell the tale.  His horse however, was less fortunate.  On one of the myriad walking routes on Wenlock Edge stands a way marker bearing the name "Major's Leap."

Even without this knowledge, we had a sense that a night spent at Wilderhope is not for the faint hearted.  Gareth and I were separated for a short time and I felt an inexplicable sense of unease.  We reunited near the staircase and Gareth, having passed this bedroom only moments before, noticed that the light near the upper bunk was now switched on.  The other couple had long since left.

We headed back down the winding narrow staircase, wondering what these walls would have to say if they could talk and, more to the point, would we want to hear?

Even without the knot gardens, galleries and ornamentation such properties usually display, Wilderhope is by no means lacking in atmosphere.  Now, if I could only get 20 or so like minded people to agree to my mad scheme to party here for a night.  Wouldn't that be something?


  1. i would come to your party in the haunted manor!
    doing the garden path sounds back breaking - but it looks gorgeous and romantic.... cool ideas for the fire place and the pallet shelving.
    wishing you a fast healing for your poor finger! i never was to the hospital for stitching together my often very deep cuts in my hands - my first job was cutting out pattern pieces for leather clothes with sharp knifes, later the huge dressmaking scissors did some damage too and now the garden ones - i just let it bleed (cleans the wound) and then press it together with a thick bandage which i let in place for min. 2 days - it always has worked very well.
    see you at wilderhope ;-D

    1. Thank you!
      Goodness, you are well versed in treating such injuries! Thanks for the tips. xxx

  2. Yikes, your poor finger! I hope it's not giving you too much gip!
    The fireplace pallet shelf and bark path are all fabulous, you have worked hard.
    Lovely photo of you and Sarah. I spy the Kharibu dress - how funny, i wore mine yesterday!
    Wilderhope looks amazing, I'd definitely up for a night there (as long as it''s warm!) Love the photo of the cat on top of the Aga! xxx

    1. Thanks Vix! Yes, the chill required something warmer on Friday night.
      Wilderhope was one of the best Youth Hostels I've ever seen! xxx

  3. I'm glad you securely wrapped up your finger and didn't have to get a stitch!

    What a lovely place, but yes, I can feel the uneasiness in your pictures of it. I would, however, be down to stay there with other folks as a cheap party place!

  4. I'll come to your party, Claire! Wilderhope Manor has been on my list for years, but I wasn't sure it was worth the visit, what with the Youth Hostel thing.
    But ouch, your poor finger! I'm glad you didn't need stitches after all, though. Abandoned umbrellas aren't to be trusted!
    I'm loving your home and garden improvements. Hearing you on the pebbles, but at least you can clean them up and use them as decoration. We have been digging over a border which is full chunks of concrete and other debris which used to be part of our former wall. xxx

    1. Thanks Ann.
      Yes, when you have limited time, Wilderhope probably wouldn't make the list and the road approaching it is very bumpy and narrow. It was in a beautiful setting though and the manor house is very atmospheric.
      We'll both have muscles like Popeye digging our respective gardens! xxx

  5. I read Vix's post but yours is interesting too as things are never the same through different eyes - the glass swans head is quite beautiful. I like your outfit - looks like Vix is not the only one with good vintage taste, Dilly Grey dress and raincoat looked great.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments! I was glad of that rain coat by the time we left. Perfect weather for swans!

  6. A grand job on the wood chip path & fireplace revamp Claire. In light of there having been a teenage party - have you checked there are no sharpo pen additions to your paintings? ;) Ouchee, vicious umbrella! Glad the sticky stitches did the job. That's a cracking price for the hire of the Elizabethan manor isn't it - £17.50 per head for a party of 40... even if there are ghosts to contend with :0 It always surprises me how nice some youth hostels are...& not that full of youths either. I remember staying at a delightful one in the Lake District years ago when I still was relatively youthful, & it was full of middle aged hikers & families xXx

    1. Thanks Lulu! Everything was present and correct as far as I could tell, but I might just do another check now you've said that.
      I'm wondering if your Lake District hostel was the same one I stayed in on a school trip to Coniston at the age of 11. Beautiful as it was, I don't have great memories of the food. We'd have boiled eggs for breakfast and then be picking out pieces of egg shell from our stew later in the day. Ugh! xxx



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