You know, it's a mistake to recreate a cherished occasion in the past. Time does not stand still. Next time the place will be different, or, as I discovered today, just not there.
I am now two days into my three-week Welsh Tour. Yesterday I was at Moreton-in-Marsh, at the north end of the Cotswolds. Today it was Much Wenlock. M--- and I were in these parts in 1994, twenty years ago. I wanted to do several things that we had done in 1994. First, drive by the bed and breakfast place we stayed in - 'Chadstone' at Aston Munslow. I'd written this about it at the time:
Chadstone, Aston Munslow. Muriel and Robert White. 3 nights B&B with M---.
Muriel and Robert gave us a very warm welcome. They were really nice, Muriel in particular making great efforts to ensure we were comfortable. Robert had built their large and expensively fitted-out house. We had our own rooms, and our bathroom, though not ensuite, was only next door, and was most luxurious! We were both very comfortable, much liking all the nice personal touches. We went back again. The only problem was the cold weather, including a touch of sleet. Memorable Moment: Chinese horoscopes at the Wenlock Edge Inn: discovering that M--- (as a wood monkey) and myself (as a water dragon) were very compatible indeed!
Note the mention of the Wenlock Edge Inn: more on that shortly. We stayed at Chadstone three times, but eventually switched to a favourite hotel at Woolacombe in North Devon. I saw from a hotel guide that by 2001 Robert and Muriel had sold up and moved elsewhere. I wonder what became of them? Nowadays Chadstone is in yet other hands, under the style of 'Shropshire Hills Bed and Breakfast' and there are glowing reports on TripAdvisor. When I drove slowly past in Fiona it looked pretty good. There was no point in stopping, but I felt that if ever I abandoned caravanning I'd be happy to enjoy Robert's house again.
Thus far, the Shropshire Holiday with M--- had sort of been recovered. I drove on to Ludlow. Here things began to go West. With Fiona tethered, I entered the town centre. The big central feature there was the market hall at the Butter Cross, and nearby the famous De Grey's Café. I sorely fancied a high-class afternoon tea and cake! But I was disappointed. The Café was closed. Permanently. A chappie who looked as if he knew what's what joined me. I asked him when the place had shut down. Only three months previously. So after an absence of twenty years, I had missed the chance to enjoy a yummy silver service refreshment there by just three months. I couldn't believe it. The chappie said that there had been no obvious reason for the closure. Inside, the counters, tables and chairs were still in place, as if it had merely been shut up for a day or two. I wandered off, feeling oddly upset.
I remembered a delicatessen called the Ludlow Larder down a nearby side street. But that too had gone, though possibly replaced by a cheese shop. Disconsolate, I noticed a pottery shop with interesting-looking wares on display. I went in. The shop was owned by a Mr and Mrs Homer. Mr Homer was the expert potter. Mrs Homer looked after the shop customers. She told me more about De Grey's Café. Apparently none of the family who presently owned it were interested in the café trade, and had lately been running it at a loss. She didn't say so, but it sounded like a contrived insolvency. Rumour had it that the quaint old premises would be leased to a pizza chain - I immediately thought of Prezzo or Zizzi. We chatted about several topics. I asked various questions about the pottery, and bought an irresistible blue-and-gold bowl made by Martin Homer for £39, as much as I wanted to spend so early in my holiday. It was tiny but exquisite. The purchase lifted my mood, which rose further towards the heavens after an examination of the town Church, full of unusual monuments, a magnificent organ, and some works commemorating A E Housman the famous Shropshire Poet, who is buried in the churchyard.
Back to the caravan to change, and then out again to eat a Chinese Horoscope themed meal at the Wenlock Edge Inn. There it was. Odd that nobody else was in the car park. Then I realised that it was closed! Oh no. This place was sacred in my memory. A place of pilgrimage. Where M--- and I had drawn closer.
A woman came over to me from a nearby house. She thought I was a local councillor, from Much Wenlock perhaps, come to see for myself what was going on. For a planning application had been put in to develop both sides of the road, including the pub site, into a holiday complex. This on a ridge in an area of outstanding natural beauty. She and other local residents, who would be affected by having the complex on their doorstep, were anxious to get the three councils involved to refuse planning permission. I thought refusal was perfectly justified, given the impact all the building would have. (There was a plan on display)
But of course I was no councillor. I explained what I was actually doing there. How I'd hoped to have a meal and dwell on a past occasion that meant much to me. Now I was all dressed up and nowhere to go! Well, I had on a leather jacket, top and best jeggings! The lady was sympathetic and suggested one of the pubs in Much Wenlock. Very good advice. I went to The Talbot Inn after wandering about town and repeatedly encountering the same two couples. We all ended up in the same place. I can recommend the food at The Talbot Inn. I had lamb shank in a red wine jus, plus vegetables, and two large glasses of wine to wash it down with. Yum.
So to set against the disappointments of De Grey's Café and the Wenlock Edge Inn I had a beautiful little bowl and a jolly good evening meal. Perhaps I came out ahead.