Al and Marsha's Journal
This was our last day of real touristing because tomorrow morning we will be off fairly early for our flight home from Heathrow.
We decided to spend the day exploring as many of the historic sites in the area as was practical. Some of the material we had read suggested that while there were about nine interesting historical sites within a few miles, seeing them all in one day was not practical.
After an excellent breakfast we headed off quite early to our first destination, a Victorian Village just a couple of miles from the hotel.
This village has been created to illustrate what life was like at the beginning of the industrial revolution in Queen Victoria's time. It is located at the site of some of the first blast furnaces used to make iron and steel. The village contains examples of much of the styles and commerce of the times, including the steam driven machinery used to manufacture products. Also included were recreations of many kinds of businesses common at the time, such as a candle maker, a woodcarver, a leather worker, a seamstress, etc.
In each of these places, and in fact throughout the town, were folks dressed in clothes of the time actually working at whatever their particular place was about. Each of these explained in some detail how they went about their work. Two which I found most interesting were the candle maker, who explained each step of the tedious process of making candles by a lengthy series of dipping and cooling, and the woodcarver who explained how his tools did the job for him.
An interesting point the woodcarver made was about maintaining his tools. He showed the group watching him a chisel and explained about sharpening it, and how it should be done. By way of illustrating his point that sharpening is often done too often, and in the incorrect manner, he showed us one that he uses daily in his work, and then a new one of the same type. The one he uses is about one half as long as the new one. He made his point by telling us that the one he is using has paid for his house! That was a very clear demonstration of his point.
There was a little fairground with rides for the kids in the style of the Victorian era, the remains of the original steel blast furnaces, the foundry and many other of the original parts of the village.
We stopped for a cold drink at the restaurant next to the fair and rested for a while before proceeding to our next destination. We had spent about three hours at this recreated village and found it very enjoyable and interesting.
Feeling a little rested we took off on foot for a twenty minute walk along a wooded trail to the Coalport China factory down the road a bit. It was a very pretty walk and felt a little like the trails in Stanley Park. After walking for about twenty five minutes we started to think we had missed an exit. Every so often along the trail was a signpost pointing farther down the trail for Coalport. All of a sudden the next sign we came across pointed back the way we had come. We took a small trail off to the road below and found that we had missed the china factory by about one half kilometer. Back we hiked to the site of the factory and stopped again for another cold one.
The china factory is virtually completely as it was when it was operating. The china made here was of both the hand made and painted variety and the massed produced variety. Some of the hand painted pieces on display were amazing to see. It is hard to imagine how someone could paint such small detailed pictures and decoration so precisely. Many of the pieces on display dated back to the 1700s.
Many of the workshops used are still available to tour and the steps to make the china were well explained.
It was a mildly interesting museum and we did learn some new stuff. At the front of the factory is the end of a canal which was built for the sole purpose of transporting the products from the factory to markets around England. Many production facilities around the country were linked to cities by man made canals which were the chief form of transportation of goods until the advent of the railway.
After our tour of the china factory we walked back to the Victorian village to pick up our car and drove to our last spot for the day, Ironbridge, which I mentioned earlier.
We had a little trouble with Elizabeth getting there because she was a little ambiguous at one point and we ended up missing a turn. We did, because of that, see a delightful little town perched on a hillside nearby which we would not have seen otherwise.
We got to Ironbridge in due course and were very glad we had come here. Not only was the bridge itself quite an amazing structure, considering when and how it was built, and also that it had lasted this long, but the town, on the other side of the Severn River which the bridge spans was just a spectacular example of the English village.
We walked around for a bit, enjoying the view, the atmosphere, and an ice cream before heading back to the hotel for a rest and dinner.
Before dinner we took a tour of the amazing garden created by Sylvia over all these years. The pictures I took can only provide a glimpse of how vast and beautiful the garden is.
Tucked away in one corner is a shed, and as we walked by it, to our suprise a donkey appeared. It turns out that the donkey is Sylvia's pet. She has had a pet donkey for well over thirty-five years. She recently lost one she had owned for thirty-seven years due to old age, and is about to get another young one to keep this one company. Later in the afternoon we saw Sylvia taking Donk for a walk on a leash.
We went down early to the bar to relax a bit, have a cold one, and enjoy the atmosphere. Soon Stuart, the son of the owners, and also the head chef came to sit and talk to us, and later Henry, Stuart's dad joined us. We chatted for a while, and then adjourned to the dining room for another great dinner.
After dinner we went back to the bar and spent a lovely couple of hours talking with Henry, Sylvia and Stuart before heading off to get some sleep.
Our last day.... we awoke to a terrible wet, rainy day which offered no promise for even a parting walk in the garden, so we had breakfast, said our goodbyes to Henry and off we went to Heathrow, 130 miles Southeast.
The drive to Heathrow was ghastly to say the least. The road was virtually all dual carriageway but the weather was terrible and it was difficult to see very far ahead. I had to focus intently on the road for the whole trip, while Marsha sat there, eyes glued to the road and putting on her set of brakes every time a car ahead of us made any kind of unexpected move.
We made one bathroom, refuelling stop about 90% of the way to Heathrow. By that time the rain had abated substantially and the rest of the trip was relatively relaxed. When we got to the vicinity of Heathrow I made the mistake of continuing to listen to Elizabeth's instructions instead of just following the rental car return signs. Because of this we made a few trips around in circles, including one seemingly endless drive through a one lane tunnel, which had, I swear, two inches of clearance between the car and the tunnel walls on each side.
We finally got to the rental car return and within minutes were on our way to Heathrow Terminal 5. We got our bags checked easily, having already printed our boarding passes the night before from the internet, using the hotel's computer, and headed for security.
This was a non-event as well, and we went, as instructed, into the first door after security to the British Airways passenger lounge.
This lounge is absolutely enormous with seating areas lavishly furnished, and a huge buffet with food and drinks of every kind, and all of this free of charge. There is also a spa which provides free (but short) massage treatments for passengers. What we didn't realize at first was that this was just for the lowly Club class (i.e. Business Class) passengers. We of the elite First Class types got to go up one floor to the First Class lounge which was even more luxurious, including a sit down dining room, linen and silver service and all, also at no charge.
Although, on reflection I guess saying it was no charge overlooks an important point. When I was checking on line for seat availability for our revised return date I did it by pretending to make a one way reservation for Marsha and I. In the course of this the availability showed up as ok, along with the price. Are you ready for this..... two one way tickets, First Class from Heathrow to Vancouver costs 5,800 pounds! That's $13,000. So taking that into account free meals and a comfy sofa is not such a big deal. Of course we had not paid a dime for this treat so we enjoyed it thoroughly. Marsha took advantage of the massage, and I relaxed.
This being Heathrow you cannot tell what gate you will be departing from until about forty-five minutes prior to departure when the gate number is posted on the electronic boards scattered around the terminal. To make matters worse, as far as I was concerned, is the fact that there are two parts (for now, another one coming soon) of Terminal 5, the main building where we were, and a satellite building called Terminal 5b. I had guessed by watching what was going on that all flights to North America were going from 5b. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to get from where we were to Terminal 5b via an underground train.
Sure enough our gate was finally posted and it was in 5b so off we went. It turned out not to be a big deal and we got to the gate a few minute early. They have another First Class lounge under construction in this satellite terminal as well.
Once again we boarded to the First Class section and climbed into our cocoons for the pampered and easy flight home. We left London at 5:30 pm and arrived in Vancouver at 6:30 pm.
It was a wonderful holiday and we had done and seen all that we had hoped to and more. Now we have to start planning our next trip to somewhere.
With regard to the house/car exchange experience, it worked out incredibly well, for both us and the folks using our place. Marsha and I agree that we would do this again.
For pictures of our brief time in Wales and England click here.
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