11 October 2008


The thing about B&Bs is that you can never be sure what you’re going to get. We’ve stayed in delightful B&Bs in old cottages and inns, we’ve stayed in clean but soulless rooms in boring streets. We’ve been welcomed and looked after by hosts in a way that one would usually expect only from family or friends, we’ve had courteous and professional greetings, we’ve had relaxed and obliging hosts, we’ve stayed with people who don’t really give a crap. You have to be open minded about what kind of room you will get, what the service will be like, what kind of breakfast you’ll be served. Because the joy of B&Bs is that they’re not hotels, they’re (usually) not chains or franchises, so they’re highly individual and occasionally very idiosyncratic. Of course, there is no excuse for anything being less than adequate, but once you reach the stage of ‘good enough’, it’s almost as if anything goes.

This has very little to do with the particular place we were staying in Hay-on-Wye, which had cheerful and accommodating hosts, an adequate but not-fancy room with a comfy bed, and filling but not-healthy breakfasts (the full breakfast came with fried bread, while orange juice and fried mushrooms were about as fresh as it got – the UK has a very different approach to breakfasts from Australia). Our breakfast on the day we left was spent listening in on the conversation of the two older-middle-aged men sitting on the table behind us – “When I was sailing in the Bahamas in 2004 . . .” and “. . . in Pakistan, we had to all file into this big hall, shake his hand and then take tea with him . . .” and on the subject of walking, “The Ridgeway, you say? Far too much traffic in that part of the world if you ask me!” They were walking Offas Dyke Path.

Anyway, we set off with a little trepidation (after Google maps had led us somewhat astray in Bristol and on the way to Hay-on-Wye), and at first our fears seemed unfounded, and we made good time as the dense fog rose and became low cloud in an otherwise clear sky. But we soon found ourselves driving around in circles (through beautiful countryside, I might add), and I got gradually more and more pissy (I hate when I don’t have a good map!) until we went back to the nearest village and bought a road atlas at the petrol station. One good thing came of all this annoyingness, though – when we finally made it to a highway, we passed a cyclist . . . riding a penny farthing! It was so awesome I made DB stop so it could overtake us and I could take another picture.

We arrived in Chester in good time, and got to see the Lovely F, her partner and her two cute (and very vocal) cattens! Yayyy!

F and her partner, A, plied us with tea and took us on a brief tour of Chester, walking along the old Roman walls, looking at the cathedral from a number of angles, and photographing what is “possibly the second most photographed clock in Britain”. Now that is nothing if not a claim to fame!

But they knew where we REALLY needed to go. The Cheese Shop was fabulous, and we bought 4 cheeses for a picnic – an organic brie, a sheep cheese, http://www.colstonbassettdairy.com/ Colston Bassett stilton (it was too good in Bristol to let it go by!), and Shropshire Blue by the same makers. We also got some bread and fruit and set up a delightful picnic in a quiet park by the river.

We were pretty stuffed by the end of it, but walking the whole 200 metres or something to the other bank cleared some room for an ice cream cone – which we had to get, as we had decided to take one of the pedal boats out onto the river. Hee! It was a lot of fun (possibly mainly because F and A did all the work, while we lounged in the back), and a lovely way to see a little bit more of the town.

I had been slightly concerned when we first arrived because everyone seemed exceedingly well/over-dressed. It all became clear, however, when F let us know that the races were on. That evening when we went out the town was full of women clutching at walls and falling down flights of stairs (this actually happened in our restaurant, accompanied by the terrific smashing of a bottle of champagne at the bottom), and men in pink shirts and pinstrips vomiting in laneways. It was all class. Despite this, everyone was fairly jolly (I guess it was early in the night), and F’s apartment – which hovers on top of an archway over a lane/entryway) was nice and cosy and quiet, and we slept well that night!



    when are you back in aus - we will have to have a reunion spread, you know!