September 1st, 2008

What We Did Last Wednesday

Recently we've taken to avoiding motorways when we go off on holiday.  Instead we give ourselves plenty of time and plot a scenic route. Having a SatNav makes this easier- at least in theory. In practice you're liable to run up against road closures and elaborate diversionary systems (as we did on the approach to Nantwich) that the satellite, from its lordly position in the sky, can't recognise. But never mind, it's all good fun and gives one something to chunner about. 

We were going to Stratford, but instead of taking the M6, we tootled almost to North Wales- a long way out of the direct line- before turning left and heading South. This meant a two hour journey took us most of the day but- also- that we got to travel by roads we'd never been on before and see new things.

We stopped briefly at Boscobel- famous as the place where the future Charles II hid in an oak tree after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. There's a ruined convent there- Whiteladies- an Augustinian house, more properly the Priory of St Leonard at Breford.  You go down a narrow windy lane, park up, walk through a belt of woodland- and there it is- all by itself in a field. It's not spectacular as monastic ruins go,  just one of those places where - as Eliot said-  "prayer has been valid". A young couple had got there ahead of me and were making out in what I'm guessing was the chapter house. I had to angle some of my shots quite carefully so as not to get them in frame.

There are three ways of dealing with the spirit of a place:  (A) You respect it  (B) you consciously defy it and (C) you blithely ignore it. (A) is best, (B) I'm happy with- after all, why should ghosts have things all their own way? But (C) is just crass.

We skirted Birmingham. Getting across the city can be a nightmare, but the suburban route the SatNav picked out was largely uncongested. We had thought of visiting Kenilworth House in the afternoon, but all our dawdling and diverting had made us late and we didn't arrive there until closing time, so we admired its silhouette against the sky and decided to return in the morning.

We were booked into the Regent Hotel in Leamington. Leamington is a Regency spa town and the Regent is the gloriously grand town-centre hotel. Only it's not gloriously grand anymore, it's a Travel Lodge.  There's a splendid stained glass window on the main staircase, commemorating the visits of the young Queen Victoria and (on another occasion) Emperor Napoleon III. 

I love Regency buildings. For a decade or two, around 1800, everything that went up- including the jerry-built stuff- was harmoniously proportioned and beautiful to behold.  The towns that were created then- Bath, Leamington, Buxton, Brighton, Bloomsbury- are (or were) jewels. And then the fashion changed...