Saturday, 31 December 2016

Casterne Hall - Derbyshire

The first building on the site was built by the Romans, and some remains are incorporated into today's house. Next cam an abbey that suffered badly during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Hurt family took possession of the state in the mid sixteenth century but decided to live elsewhere until Nicholas Hurt rebuilt Casterne, finishing the new stately hall in 1740.

Casterne Hall is built of grey bricks that are common to the Peak District.This makes for an austere sight on a grey day, but Casterne has been described as one of the top twelve family homes in Britain, so make sure you go on a sunny day.

Casterne Hall is in the Manifold Valley of the Peak District, overlooking beautiful countryside, quite close to Ilam (worth a visit in its own right).

Casterne Hall


Diary - Friday 30th December 2016

It felt strange not being at the Talking News on a Thursday and I almost automatically went down to the Sorting Office first thing, except there was no TN to deliver. I did, however, post a media player to a listener in South Wales and then topped the car up with perol.

We waited for the day to warm up and the fog to clear. It had been well below freezing overnight but crept up to 3 by the time we left. The fog around us had lifted but once on the road it became clear that fog would be with us the whole journey. This made the trip down to Woking somewhat longer than normal, but I simply kept 100 metres between me and the car in front and we were with Robert, Sheri, Daisy and Harper by mid afternoon. Some of the journey on the M25 was so slow we were in electric mode.

We had a lovely, relaxed evening and after the kids had gone to bed we watched The 100 Yard Journey, and this was charming and feel good and fitting for the mood and the time of year.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Wells-next-the-Sea - Norfolk

Just to the west of Blakeney is another port that lost its importance because of the harbour silting up. Ironically this was partly a man-made fault. Once the salt marshes had been recognised for their importance, and as the sea front was being eroded by the power of the waves, sea defences were built along the coastline just away from Wells. However, they had the effect of building up the silt rather than protecting the town.

Today Wells-next-the-Sea is more about holidays than it is about business. Some 2,500 people live in the town, but the big granary that was built in 1904 is now flats and holiday homes and the long soft beech is ideal for the holiday maker.

The beach is long and flat for the most part, but with some ever-changing dunes in areas. The backdrop is pine forest, and this helps protect the beach from all directions but the north.

There is some activity in the little harbour, mostly fishing boats, but Wells is ideal for those who want to lounge by the sea whilst the sun shines or explore the likes of Cromer and the Norfolk Broads on more active days.


Diary - Thursday 29th December 2016

Finally my cold is on the wane. It's taken long enough.

We both had gifts from Christmas that needed to be exchanged. I got the same jumper twice. So we went over to Ventura fairly early. That was a good move because on the way back we could see the traffic building up to get into the shopping complex.

I changed my jumper - for a new pair of jeans, but Pauline couldn't find what she was looking for. She needs Helen or Gill with her, not a man. We also shopped for a new bed, but couldn't make a decision.

This afternoon Pauline went and did a week's food shopping for Rita and I did some work for the SNA and the Talking News. It's quiet at the moment but I know that 2017 will be busier than 2016, so I've really got to make some changes.  One of the differences will be that some of the TN work will be left for a Thursday and Peter Fox and I will stay over at the end of the recording sessions to clear new listeners, pack media players, raise records etc.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Blakeney - Norfolk

Today, Blakeney is a peaceful place to visit. Time was when you wouldn't leave a ship loaded with cargo anywhere near.

People have lived in the area since well before the Domesday Book. It was a sheltered inlet from the North Sea and where the River Glaven met the sea they built a port. It thrived for several hundred years, but slowly the inlet silted up and other local ports succumbed.

Today it is still a small port, but only for even smaller boats.

The area around Blakeney is quite flat, suitable for walks of all manner of kinds. As the land silted up it became an area of outstanding natural beauty and was taken over as a nature reserve by the National Trust.

As you enter the town you are met by flint and pebble houses. Then the small harbour looking out onto the salt marshes. Explore these at leisure and you will find rare plants and a variety of sea birds. Pick the right time of year and local boating trips will take in the seal colony which has been nursed by the NT and which now supports around 2,000 pups a year. Only a decade ago it would have been less than 100.


Salt marshes

Diary - Wednesday 28th December 2016

The day started badly. This is not common.

I had hoped that my cold would be a memory by now but when I woke I felt worse that it looked outside. Thick fog and poor visibility. Of course, we don't get the pea-soupers of my youth, when you could walk into a wall because you couldn't see that far ahead, but maybe it's worse like this because the fogs are rarer now and so accidents, when they do happen, tend to be more serious - as was the case today.

I went for a walk in search of cough linctus. In our little park the birds were singing. I met neighbours and acquaintances and felt better in my head when I got back.

Pauline thought we should be sociable, as my cough was beginning to recede, so we went over to Alrewas for an afternoon of Gill and Paul. This was lovely and friendly. They had guests who arrived to stay for a couple of days, but we didn't run off too quickly.

Somehow, in 2017 we've got to find more time for friends, family - and us.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Diary - Tuesday 27th December 2016

Another lovely day.

We spent the morning just being gentle and sociable. Dave did all the little practical jobs that Pauline wouldn't even think to point out to me. So as not to upset him, I let him do them all and just mentioned one or two others in passing.

They set off back to High Wycombe at 2.35pm. Two minutes later Rita came with her carer, whom I'd never met, and five minutes later Margaret and Emma also came.

So that was the sum total of our day, just being friendly and very laid back.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Cannock Chase - Staffordshire

There are woods to the east and south of Lichfield that were once part of Cannock Chase. Today there are still 26 square miles of the Chase, to the north of Rugeley and Lichfield, west of Cannock and east of Stafford.

Cannock Chase has a lot to offer. It is a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees with large areas of heathland separating them. There are visitor centres, cemeteries, monuments, havens and areas for outdoor activities both moderate and extreme.

Designated an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1958, mush of Cannock Chase has been shaped by the coal mining industry, now defunct, although relics can still be seen.

The Chase abounds with wildlife, some of it quite rare. Fallow deer abound, there are about 800 roaming the Chase, but this is the only place I know of in the Midlands where you can go and hope to see the elusive nightjar.

Cannock Chase

Diary - Monday 26th December 2016

We had a lovely sociable morning. A long breakfast and people got dressed as and when. We were at least all presentable by the time John came to collect Rita for her usual Boxing Day at Middleton.


We had a light lunch and all walked into town. The sun was shining, it was twelve degrees and there was a lot of festive cheer still around.


Tonight we went to The Garrick for a performance of Sleeping Beauty. I had never heard of any of the cast (we are in a backwater) and the programme intimated that the most 'famous' was Rebecca Keatley of CBeebies. Well, her personality sparkled and she clearly has talent.


Actually, the whole cast was talented. There was a sense of fun from the first moment and plenty of laugh out loud moments. The bathroom scene was hilarious slapstick and the dragon was so realistic that the little boy in front of us hid under a blanket.


We enjoyed it. Oh yes we did!

Monday, 26 December 2016

Diary - Sunday 25th December 2016

The weather was very kind. Everything feels good when the sun shines.

There was no pressure at all today, even when the odd thing went wrong.

We got up and did the vegetables for tonight. Pauline had only one task for me - do something with red cabbage - so I Googled it and everyone agreed, you should all try this recipe.

Mulled red cabbage with clementines.


  • 4 clementine
  • 700g chunk red cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 red onion, chopped
  • 200ml red wine vinegar
  • 140g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp mixed spice


  1. Stud the whole clementine with the cloves and set aside.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients in a big saucepan or flameproof casserole. Cover and cook for 30 mins, then snuggle in the studded clementine, cover again and cook for 30 mins more until the cabbage is tender. Season and eat hot or at room temperature.
Truly gorgeous.

I fetched Rita round at mid day and we just rested this afternoon and watched a film. We heard that Helen, Dave and the girls were on their way up from seeing Ann in Wiltshire at 4.20pm, so expected them at 6.30. We got the turkey underway and the roast veg. Pauline checked after an hour and the veg were burnt to a crisp. But there was no panic. We just sorted out more veg and were ready with the bubbles when they got to us.

We opened a present each, then had this gorgeous meal, then more presents (and the odd drink) until midnight.

This turned out to be as good as Christmas as any. Only family members were missing.

Pauline, Helen, Megan, Rita




Sunday, 25 December 2016

Happy Christmas

I did spend one Christmas on my own. It was 1960 and I was nineteen and had been a Police Constable since December 14th. I was a real pro!

In the two weeks that I had been stationed in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, I had just about found my way around the town. I should have been overloaded with help, but there was a flu epidemic that year and people went down like nine pins. I had a guide on my first night and a map for the next ten days.

The rule in the Force in those days was that married men with a family got first choice of being off at Christmas. The single officers were expected to work all Bank Holidays. I had no objection to that.

What made it look as though it was going to be hard, however, was that I was almost the last man standing. Sergeant Blake could look like a thunderstorm about to happen, but I'd seen through him the first time I met his wife. She gave him such a look of affection that I knew he was really a pussy cat.

He talked to me on Christmas Eve. He said it was looking bad because I was the only able-bodied single officer available and the office had to be manned for at least sixteen hours. He was a family man himself and was mithering about how he could take half the strain, but I told him to forget it. His place was with his family and I was a big boy now. Nevertheless, he said he would come to see I was OK from time to time.

I got to the office at 6am and said goodnight to the Night Shift. Sergeant Blake came in about 9am and I put the kettle on. He assured me it would be as lively today as a graveyard and my biggest problem would be boredom. I was pouring the tea and the most dishevelled man I have ever seen walked into the parade room. He looked at me and said "I think you should be aware that I am about to break the front window at Parkinson's the Jewellers."

Before I could formulate a reply, Sergeant Blake stood behind the man and said "Arnold, thinking thoughts like that are a crime. I'm afraid I'm going to have to arrest you." He then turned to me and with a straight face ordered me to place this man in the cells and throw away the key.

I took Arnold to the cells and he thanked me very much.

Back in the office Sergeant Blake gave me a phone number. "That's Elsie at the Crown. Tell her it's the usual for Arnold. She'll send him some dinner over later. For you too, probably. Just give him some tea every few hours and he'll be no trouble. He justs wants to spend Christmas somewhere warm. We'll let him out in a couple of days."

So I settled down to a quiet day making tea for Arnold. We chatted a while and I learned his whole sad story. Then I heard a real commotion coming up the front steps. As I raced to the door it was flung open and a man on horseback rode in. "Is this where I join the Mounted Police?" he asked. When he saw the stunned look on my face he said "Just kidding. This is for you Boys in Blue." and he slid a sack off the horse, bade me a Happy Christmas and clattered back down the steps.

The sack held everything you could ask for from a thriving farm. There was fruit, vegetables and a few joints of pork and beef. Apparently an annual present that the Sergeant had forgotten to tell me about.

I had just about got over that when Elsie came in from the Crown. She had two hot meals and a young man carrying half a crate of beer. "Enjoy, but don't get silly." she said, and left me to Arnold, Christmas cheer and some very nice food.

If life in the Police Force had always been so enjoyable, I might have stayed.

Diary - Saturday 24th December 2016

Today was mostly about getting ready, and also giving Christmas something of a kick start.

It had, at first, looked as though this was going to be the strangest Christmas since Pauline and I met, but somehow it is coming together.

When our children all found partners in life, it was only fair that if they all came to us one year, then they should go to the partner's family the next. On the years when they were away, we either went to stay with Gerard and Margaret for Christmas or one of the kids sneaked us in as outsiders.

Much has changed this year, It is an away year, but Dan & Gary are hosting the Brighton Christmas and there is no room for us. Robert and Sheri are hosting the Woking Christmas, and there is no room for us. Helen and Dave have the reality of Dave's Mom being really unwell and so we expected their attention to be in Wiltshire. Gerard and Margaret are new grandparents and so are naturally going to Louise and Neil for Christmas.

So it was just going to be us, for the first time.

Then it was agreed that the Whitehouse family would come to us today, and also Helen and Dave said they would go to see Ann Christmas morning but would come on up to Lichfield late afternoon.

So all is well..

I collected Rita at mid day, Gerard, Margaret, Louise, Neil, Emma and Amy, plus gorgeous baby Molly, came for the afternoon and it was all very pleasant and an early swop of presents.

Tonight we went to Midnight Mass (at 7.15pm!!) and had our first Christmas Eve with no stockings hanging on the bannister.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Lizard Point - Cornwall

You can't go further south in England than Lizard Point. If you do, you get very wet.

It isn't really an eye-watering sight when you get there, though for some reason you feel that you have accomplished something, if only through having navigated down some quite narrow one track lanes.

On a good day you get there and feel a sense of achievement. You are never alone. There will always be another 100 souls who are gazing in wonder at the edge of the world.

The National Trust maintains the area and has a permanent presence on the site, though not the solid, brick built buildings that they manage elsewhere across Britain.

It is worth the detour. The scenery can be stunning in the right light, the Lizard Lighthouse is an attraction to many, and if you explore a little you will find rocks sculptured by the sea and the wind. Enough the make the trip worthwhile.

Lizard Point

TR12 7NT

Lizard Lighthhouse

Diary - Friday 23rd December 2016

I suppose I knew it wouldn't be a proper Friday (ie - doing nothing, Big Time) so I gave in and offered to help.

There wasn't a lot asked of me, but what I did took all morning. It did included washing the front porch and the kitchen floor.

We were starting to feel the edge of the storm that had hit Scotland and the North of England, winds strong enough to clear half the leaves on my front lawn. We had heard great things about the Christmas Tree Festival in the cathedral (45 Norwegian spruce trees all decorated differently) plus there was a laser display on the front of the cathedral, so we decided to drive up and have a quick look.

That's when the storm hit us for real.

We didn't get out of the car. The cathedral was in darkness and a glass of Barolo was calling.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Henley-on-Thames - Oxfordshire

I was born in a small town that had two rivers. One passed through Birmingham on its way to us and was so polluted that if the sport of throwing supermarket trollies into the nearest river had been invented back then, they would have corroded away in just a couple of days. The other was beautiful. Not large but with character and the best fishing in Warwickshire.

I have always found a good river attractive. We don't have really big rivers in Britain but good-sized brooks like the River Thames can appeal for most of its length. Lots of other people must feel the same because Henley is a magnet.

Henley-on-Thames is known to anyone who has ever sat in a rowing boat. We don't know how long the Regatta has been going on for, but it was made Royal 155 years ago in 1851.

King Henry II bought the land where Henley now stands in 1179. The first mention of a church in the area was in 1204. In 1337 the town and area was passed to John de Molyns and his family retained possession for the next 250 years.

The town had its ups and downs. More than 60% of the population died as a result of the Black Death. A recovery began and the town made a name by trading in glass and malt. Today the population is around 12,000.

The main crossing for the River Thames is the Henley Bridge. This was built in 1786. There is always a buzz around the bridge, always, not just at Regatta time. The Thames heads north as it passes through Henley, then swings east as it heads for London, growing all the time on its journey to the Thames Estuary.


Diary - Thursday 22nd December 2016

On the one hand I woke at 5am because my wheezing was so loud. On the other I had only woken three times in the night and I suddenly felt that my airways were clearing.

This was going to be an easier Thursday than usual because there will be no Live at Home Scheme for three weeks. Pauline had her jobs to do, especially flower arranging in church, and I got on with recording the Stevenage Talking News. That took the morning.

Pauline got back, we had a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch and then I was off to the studio to finish off last night's recordings and to run off the necessary copies for Wales, Scotland and Stevenage. I picked up the Lichfield Mercury on the way home and then managed an hour off.

I got to the studio at 6.30pm. Keith joined me ten minutes later and we did all the packing. Ben arrived, Jan's team were replete with funny hats and Christmas crackers. Peter came early but then had to leave to collect his daughter.

As the evening progressed I felt that my progress was reversing and by the time Keith and I had duplicated and packed the Lichfield TN I was really ready for bed.

I was home by 9pm and in bed and asleep five minutes later.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Chillington Hall - Staffordshire

The family that lives at Chillington Hall, near Brewood (pronounced brood) in Staffordshire is the 29th generation of the Giffard Family that first moved onto the estate at least 800 years ago.

Chillington was mentioned in the Domesday Book and was a stone castle at the time of the Norman Conquest. Even that was thought to have been built on the site of an even earlier house.

When the Giffard Family took possession they dismantled the castle (all but a little which is even now incorporated into the present building) and built a Tudor Style building. This seemed adequate enough until 1723 when it was decided to start again. The old house was razed and a new one began in 1724. Some time later Capability Brown was brought in to design the gardens, and in 1785 further changes to the house were made, resulting in today's Georgian style grandeur.

Many of Britain's old established families lost their homes and possessions to Death Duties and the like, but the Giffards had more about them. They not only clung to what they'd got, they moved with the times and opened the house and grounds up to all manner of activities, particularly weddings.

The hall can be hired, weddings can be conducted, and visiting is mainly between the middle of April to the middle of August. We will be going back mid 2017.

Chillington Hall WV8 1RE

Diary - Wednesday 21st December 2016

I got up at 11.30pm and went downstairs so that my coughing wouldn't disturb Pauline. When I went back to bed at 3.30am, she got up and went downstairs so that her coughing wouldn't disturb me. We're very considerate to one another.

Half way through the morning I reached a tipping point with my cold. I suddenly moved from constant to occasional use of tissues. My head still throbbed and my eyes were like looking through camouflage netting, but that was all an improvement.

Pauline had an appointment at the doctors for an injection and had told me to stay in bed today. On a Wednesday?

So I let her disappear and then went down to the Sorting Office and collected more returns than normal. People want their Christmas entertainment. I set everything up in the garage and then, when she returned, we slogged away and processed everything. That took until 1.30pm.

This afternoon I processed five new listeners and packaged four new media players. I unwrapped 100 new memory sticks that had been configured to work with our players, and that was the afternoon gone. I took everything to the studio just before 7pm and was happy that Peter had a full team of readers. I bought Christmas wine on the way home and it was 8pm before I could relax for the first time today.

I don't write about everything I do in the course of a day (like fixing the cupboard door in the kitchen) and someone asked how, if I am always so strapped for time, do I manage to write Meanderings? The answer is that I consider my journal important to me and I take every spare opportunity to scratch it all down. Such as sitting in a waiting room or waiting for sleep to come.

That's the beauty of an I-pad.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Hagley Hall - Worcestershire

There has been a house on the site of Hagley Park for more than 700 years. Nothing much is known about the first building but there is some evidence that it was reshaped as a half-timbered Tudor Style building sometime during the 14th century.

The estate and house were home to the Lyttelton Family, and they still maintain ownership. The family survived an unfortunate involvement in the Gunpowder Plot and one member went on the run for more than two months, eventually attempting to hide out at Hagley, but was betrayed by servants.

George, 1st Lord Lyttleton took over the estate and deer park in 1751. Between the years 1754 to 1760 he had the old house replaced by a Neo-Palladian grand house and this was the pride and joy of the family for 160 years.

However, in 1925 there was a devastating fire that destroyed most of the building. Reeling from the shock the incumbent at that time contemplated razing everything, but instead set about restoring as much as he could. Only the upstairs servants quarters were never rebuilt and are still unusable today.

Hagley Hall is open to the public and is also available as a venue for weddings and other major shows, productions and exhibitions. We had the run of part of the house several times on major car launches and were always impressed by the levels gone to in restoring major damage.

Near the house, in the grounds, is the charming church of St John the Baptist. The original church was built at the time of the original house. The current church was built at the same time as the current hall, but was extended and reshaped some 100 years later.



St John the Baptist

Diary - Tuesday 20th December 2016

It wasn't every hour I woke throughout the night, it was every 45 minutes. Neither Pauline nor I can remember the last time I had either a cold or flu, and I certainly don't remember ever feeling like this.

I started with the best will in the world but by the time I was on my second box of tissues Pauline said I would be irresponsible to go to the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance meeting this afternoon, and I gratefully agreed.

I sat for an hour and downloaded the Scottish news for the week so far, then gave up. I was in bed by 6.30pm and Pauline wasn't far behind me.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Winterbourne House - Birmingham, West Midlands

Large as it is, it only took a year to build Winterbourne House, and it was finished in 1904. Set in 7 acres of Edgbaston, Birmingham, it was built for John and Margery Nettlefold. They lived there for only a short time, but in 1909 John became ill and his wife sold the house.

The next owners were the Wheelock Family. The garden was just the place for 9 children to run rampant. As the children grew and moved away to make their own lives, the house was suddenly too big and it changed hands again in 1925.

The final owner was John Nicholson and je loved the place. In particular he began to work on the botanical gardens that we see today. He lived and devoted himself to the house until his death in 1944. He bequeathed the house and gardens to the University of Birmingham.

The university didn't always look after Winterbourne. They used the house for several different reasons, but it was not until the turn of the century that the university took ownership to its current level of care. The house was tastefully renovated and the gardens were brought to the standard that they are a genuine tourist attraction. Visits can be made during the hours of 10am to either 4pm or 5pm, dependent on the time of year.

B15 2RJ


Diary - Monday 19th December 2016

I woke every hour, almost on the hour. When I woke for the last time (at 6am) I felt dreadful, but there was work to do.

Most of the work I did this morning was for the Staffordshire Neurological Alliance. Most of what I did this afternoon was for the Talking Newspaper.

Most of what I did this evening was stare at the wall until 8.30, then I went to bed.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Harvington Hall - Worcestershire

Harvington Hall was buiult by a Catholic family. The first medieval style house was constructed in the 14th century, but when it became dangerous to be a Catholic in England, an Elizabthan manor was built by Humphrey Pakington starting in 1590.

Harvington Hall sits on an island surrounded by a moat close to the village of Chaddesley Corbett. The house has two chapels inside, another one not far away, and a Georgian chapel that has had a varied life, rising from ruins to become a school room, and then rising again to return as a place of worship.

The Pakington family were devout and determined. They continued to observe the Catholic Mass during the most difficult of times and the house has seven priest holes where priests and others could hide in the event of the house being raided.

Eventually the house passed to the Ferris family and Robert Ferris (later Lord Harvington) gifted the house to the Archdiocese of Birmingham in 1980. The house and pleasant gardens are open to visit, mainly on Sundays to Wednesdays between March and October, but it is recommended that visitors check in advance.

DY10 4LR

The Georgian Chapel