As is apt for a relaxing getaway, it was a slow start to the morning. There really wasn’t anything driving us to get up and active, but my human body clock did its thing all the same. I was partially conscious from around 5am, although content to remain in bed for the time being. My back was extremely stiff. Indeed, my entire body was telling me it was past its sell by date. Whether it was because I laid awkwardly in the night, or whether it was due to being in a different bed, I don’t know. All I do know is that my body wasn’t feeling vibrant or flexible this morning. I would eventually deplete our supply of diclofenac pain killers by three more tablets before the morning was out. Once Sandy awoke, she was very quickly up and about. She always is. Unlike me, she has an instant on body clock. Once her eyes open, she’s up and alert. For me, I’m completely useless unless I’ve gotten my full sixteen hours, not including a further full hour to transition from unconscious to somewhat functional. After Sandy left the room, I eventually dozed off again. I don’t recall for how long. I do recall that Sandy came back at some point and announced, ‘shift change’. That’s code for ‘get up and get out, so I can go back to bed’. Since a happy wife means a happy life, I stumbled out of the bed, doing my best to avoid looking like a walrus trying to manoeuvre along the beach. I somehow made it across the hall into the shower, where a torrent of water would help me complete the transition to fully awake.I’m a sucker for a full English breakfast. Fortunately, this is also one of John Ashley’s signature abilities. When he offered to whip up a cooked breakfast, I needed no further encouragement. He immediately went into full swing, while I sat there and salivated at the prospects of a plate full of eggs, hash browns, sausages, bacon, mushrooms and a couple of slices of buttered bread. A glass of milk completed the ensemble. It was certainly worth the wait. By the time I was done, and slipping into a food coma, my pain killers had started to kick in. It’s a curious sensation of being satiated while the pain of a still and contorted body was slowly being relieved by industrial strength drugs. Ah, the bliss of it all.
For the next half hour or so, I sat at a table at the back of the house overlooking the empty fields that give way to a hill covered in trees. From my vantage point, this hill is several hundred meters high, punctuating the skyline, and occupies most of my perspective. The surrounding hillsides beneath it are segmented into different fields by hedgerows. At any one time, a field segment might be populated with several dozen sheep and lambs. As the days progress, the sheep make their way from one field to the next, as the farmer actively manages his land. The field immediately adjacent to John and Lisa’s house is apparently being allowed to lay fallow. The thick blanket of grass is about twenty centimetres tall and is littered with dandelions and various other wild meadow plants. To say this this is a tranquil setting just doesn’t do justice to it. It’s nothing short of idyllic.
The only thing on the cards this morning was a Corona jab for John. He’s apparently been called for his next jab. I went with him for the brief ride into town. It took us a little while to find out where we needed to be, but we eventually stumbled into the make-shift inoculation facility a short walk from the main hubbub of the small-town centre. In the event, it turned out to be a trip for nothing. A mix-up arising from the fact that John had recently moved from England to Wales meant he was called up for another jab that actually wasn’t needed after all. His booster jab in England followed his two initial jabs there. In the Welsh healthcare system, that booster was registered as his first jab, so he was being called for his second. All of this became clear after a few questions at the medical facility and John was allowed on his way with no need for the jab after all.
Once back at the house, we considered our plans for what to do today. We did think about a trip to the seaside, but Lisa wasn’t keen on the idea. There wasn’t much to see or do there anyway. I was keen for us to make our way to one of the many castles that dot the landscape here in the UK. Sandy and I visited many a castle when we travelled throughout the British Isles as a part of our world travels. That was when we travelled in a beat-up camper van. We visited many more ancient ruins once we had kids, driving from castle to castle on day trips while on holidays. One of the better castles worth visiting around these parts is Ludlow Castle, about an hour from here across the border in England. It seemed like a good fit for something to do to occupy us for the remainder of the day, so we readied ourselves, piled into the car with the dog and were on our way.
A few minutes before reaching the quaint little British town of Ludlow, John spotted a brown sign to another castle. Tourist destinations are indicated with brown signs here in the UK. This sign indicated Stokesay Castle, which is one of the many English Heritage managed sites that can be found all over the country. Although we didn’t have much appetite for the £9 per person entry fee, since we were already planning on visiting the larger Ludlow site today, we were able to stop in at the car park and wander far enough around the grounds to take in some great photo opportunities. Stokesay Castle didn’t disappoint.
With legs now well and truly stretched, we were soon all back into the car and onward to Ludlow. As luck would have it, John found a car park spot right in front of the castle outer walls just a short walk from the ticket office and entrance. As it was going to be my treat, I paid for four adult tickets, and we were soon inside.
Just like Stokesay Castle, Ludlow Castle didn’t disappoint from a photography perspective. All four of us just happen to be avid photographers and were loving the eye candy on offer. Ancient British castles are a fascinating way to contemplate just what life might have been like for the well-to-do many hundreds of years ago. There was enough detail in the ruins to see where fireplaces and archways featured as a part of the overall architecture. You can just imagine the gentry of the day sitting in their great halls, fires ablaze and with servants tending to their every whip. If only those walls could talk.
Over the course of an hour or so, we made our way throughout the castle grounds, up and down uneven stone spiral staircases, weaving through corridors linking different chambers with each other. Both Sandy and I found ourselves being extra diligent with navigating the uneven terrain. Some stairwells were navigable but for others we urged on the side of caution and elected to forgo for the very real fear of slipping and falling. Our minds might be sharp, but our bodies are revealing ever more limitations to us, as the years continue their relentless march towards our autumn years.
Once we had photographed every nook and cranny of the castle to within an inch of its life, we meandered out into the town, where the photo porn didn’t let up. Ludlow is littered with narrow alleyways, quaint little tearooms and spectacular Tudor architecture. It really is a photographer’s dream come true here.
Although I had a big breakfast, and Lisa had by now eaten the sandwich she brought with her, John and Sandy hadn’t yet eaten. The saga of Sandy’s meat pie from yesterday had become something of a meme since then. We decided to press on where we left off yesterday and went in hunt of a tearoom or chip shop or somewhere that we could pick up a meat pie. There was nothing suitable, or open, that we could find in the town centre itself, so we resolved to making our way back to the car. Just a few minutes away, according to the satnav, was a chip shop called The Codfather (cute!), so we made our way over there. Alas, it was the wrong time of the day, as it was closed. Once again, the universe was trying to tell us something.
Not that long after leaving Ludlow, as we meandered through the winding roads back towards Wales via the stunning Shropshire hills, John spotted a chip shop that was open and made an impromptu dash for it. And so it came to pass that Sandy managed to finally get her chicken pie after all. It was by now around 4pm, so call it either a late lunch or an early supper. We sat and polished off the British fast food in the stationary car before setting back off again.
Although the drive through the winding lanes was a tad nauseating at times, it wasn’t a huge problem. Once back at home base, we fell out of the car and into a comfortable seat. Whether it was on the couch, in the kitchen or, as in my case, at the laptop on the table out the back of the house in front of the stunning views of the surrounding fields and hills, we all felt relaxed and content. As if on cue, the clouds even started to part, and the sun has been beating down on me as I’ve been writing up this blog entry for the past hour or so. It truly is blissful here. My company for the past hour has been the scenery and the sounds of nature. A gentle, barely perceptible breeze has been wrapping around me like a warm blanket. Lambs can be heard in the distance coming from various directions. Birds are chirping all around me. There must be a dozen different bird calls that I can here at various distances, all interlaced with each other. A few insects buzz into and out of earshot every now again. Although the temperature is starting to drop a little, it’s not too late for the sun to be raising my skin temperature enough to compensate for the wind. I’m glad we came here. It really is quite relaxing.