We awoke to a bright, sunny day today – although it was very crisp. It was a beautiful sight in Cheltenham, where we have been staying, to see the streets and their grand Georgian style buildings lit by bright sunlight. The yellow autumn colour of the elm trees was vibrant. Our guide book tells us that Cheltenham is the most complete Regency town in Britain and one of the few English towns in which traditional and contemporary architecture complement each other. (I think I prefer the traditional buildings). The old spa town is hard to beat for its refined elegance and large Regency terraces.
From humble beginnings as a small market town, Cheltenham became one of the most fashionable health resorts in the country. In 1716, in a meadow outside the town, pigeons were found to be pecking at what turned out to be salt crystals at a spring. This discovery led to the establishment of the town as a spa resort where the wealthy people of the day came to ‘take the waters’ as a treatment for all sorts of illnesses.
Leaving Cheltenham, we headed for the old market town of Ledbury, to the west. It’s not really in the Cotswolds but it has some character and a lot of history. It’s actually in the neighbouring county of Herefordshire where red brick takes the place of the Cotswold limestone as the dominant building material. Herefordshire, is of course, the home f the famous Hereford beef cattle.
It was a lovely day for driving in the countryside During the morning, the sun was bright and there was not much traffic. For once, we could potter along without some aggressive driver pushing us along from behind.
We reached Ledbury by mid morning. It is a market town in the east of Herefordshire. The town has a significant number of timber-framed structures. One of the most outstanding is the Market House, built in 1617 and located in the town centre. It dates back to 1653 and stands on sixteen massive wooden posts. It was originally built as a grain store and now the building is used as the Town Council chamber.
Opposite the Market House is a stone building which was once the site of St Katherine’s Hospital. Founded in.1231, this is a rare surviving example of a hospital complex, with hall, chapel, almshouses and a timber-framed barn. There are many other timer framed buildings along the main street – all with uneven lines and windows at various angles..
After some time looking around Ledbury, we drove uo to Great Malvern in the nearby Malvern Hills. I grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, so I tonight it would be worthwhile visiting its namesake. This area s a designated conservation area in recognition of its special architectural and historic interest. The growth of Great Malvern began with the founding of an 11th-century priory. During the 19th century, it became a popular centre for hydrotherapy and swelled to include the bordering settlements of Malvern Link, Malvern Wells, North Malvern, and West Malvern. These towns are now generally referred to just as ‘The Malverns’. As much as thy are pretty, they are also very busy with a lot of traffic. We gave up trying to stop there for lunch and thought that we would head to a quite country village pub instead.
The only problem was ghat we couldn’t find one. We saw some signs pointing to a winery in the village of Coddington and thought that there may have been a pub there. It turned out to have only a church and just a few houses. – no pub anywhere. This area does grow hops and apples, as well as the vineyard. Just a few miles away is the village of Much Marcle where Westons Cider Brewers have an enormous plant that makes both Cider and Perry.
In the end, we returned to Ledbury. We found a hotel with a parking area but we missed the entrance to the carpark and withe all the impatient traffic behind us, it was too hard to go back. However, we found another one a little further along the main street with a similar entrance to its car park. The entrance was just a few inches wider than our car – it was originally made for horse drawn vehicles. In many ways, we struck it lucky. The large timber framed Feathers Hotel had a very nice bistro and the food was superb.
With nothing else planned, we drove down to a nearby town – Ross on the Wye as an indirect route back to Cheltenham. It has a red sandstone market hall where regular Thursday and Saturday markets are held. The upper storey of the Market House now houses a Visitor Centre.
Although the sun is nice, it’s vary hard to drive around this area in the afternoon. By 2.30 pm, the sun is low in the sky and if you are heading south or west, it is blinding as you drive. By 4.00pm it is setting and by 5.00 pm it is almost dark. Notwithstanding the sun’s brightness, we saw a road sign pointing south to the Forest of Dean and decided to follow it. We had been around the forest for most of the day.
The Forest of Dean is a region in the western part of the county of Gloucestershire. I think it is the largest remaining oak forest in England. The forest consists of 110 square kilometres of woodland. A large area was reserved for royal hunting before 1066, and remained as the second largest crown forest in England, the largest being the New Forest in the south of Devon. Traditionally the main sources of work here has been forestry – including charcoal production – iron working and coal mining.
We found the highest point in the forest – Ruaredean Hill. There, we found an impressive memorial to the Miners of The Forest of Dean. Also there is the Pan Tod Beacon – the location of one of the ancient beacons used for signalling and communication. It was the site of a near disaster when it was lit to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday
The lighting of this beacon came close to a disaster when a woman’s hair was set on fire. She had been helping a man light the beacon when part of the fire fell onto her head from the high basket of the beacon. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the fire service was not required.
From there, it was a short drive back to Cheltenham as the light dimmed and it became dark.