When I am not listening to the rain coming down on the canvas of my tent I am reading a history of England and it is thus that I learnt about King Richard the Lionheart, the good king who features in the stories of Robin Hood. As it happens he wasn’t such a good king; he ruined the country with his costly crusades, and neither was he very English. He spoke French and visited England only twice.
From Nottingham I rode to Ashbourne just south of the Peak District where I stayed a while. It was raining at intervals but when it was dry I made some trips in the hills and found out why it’s called the Peak District. The scenery was nice with the typical stone walls along the narrow lanes and the fields with sheep and… well, sheep mainly.
In Youlgreave I wondered briefly around the 12th century church. It was, as one expects, very old. After that I continued my way to Arbor Low Henge and nearby Gibb’s Hill. A henge, I now found out, is not a circle of stones, but a type of Neolithic earthwork. According to Wikipedia somebody even took the trouble to actually classify henges.
Gibb’s Hill had, after 6000 years or so, lost quite a bit of its appeal in my opinion. I have seen better hills. Not far away there was another stone circle but steep inclines, especially around Stanton in Peaks where I had to push the bicycle, made me realise that I was not that interested in Neolithic architecture after all. Seen one, seen them all, I say.
My two favourite places in Ashbourne were the library, which was warm, quiet, had books and free wifi, and the Aldi which had none of the above but was cheap.
From Ashbourne I cycled in two days through Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. These shires were evocative of the rich history of England and I could imagine Sir Lancelot, Robin Hood, Gandalf and Elton John, all sitting together drinking a pint of ale and swapping stories. Well, maybe not Elton John….
Field in Shropshire
From Whitchurch I followed the border of England and Wales and made a brief foray into that last country. Twenty minutes later I hopped back into Cheshire. Later in the afternoon I crossed a picturesque bridge over the river Dee back into Wales. I hoped somebody would ask me whether this was my first visit to Wales, whereupon I would reply: actually it’s my second…. this day. But nobody asked.
Near Gresford, which is just inside Wales, I pitched my tent in a field behind a country pub. In the tavern a bunch of builders was sitting at the bar.
– Do you have a local brew? I asked.
– Well, we have Foster…
– It’s what all the lads drink here…
The lads looked at me.
– Right, I’d like to have one of those, please.
By accident I came across this rhyme that lists the Seven Wonders of Wales:
Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winefride’s well,
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.
As two of them were not far from where I stayed I decided to tick them off. In Gresford I waited till the clock struck twelve but was then not particularly impressed with this wonder. Inside the church was a stone that had been dug up and which dated back to Roman times. It showed a faded image of Atropos who cut the life thread of mortals with his shears. Very old.
In Wrexham I saw my second wonder of Wales: the gothic architecture of St. Giles’ Parish Church. A replica of the tower is built at the prestigious Yale University in America. In the churchyard I found the grave of that university’s benefactor, Elihu Yale, merchant, philanthropist and, er…, slave trader.
Two out of seven. Not bad for one day.