It started so well: a glorious summer’s evening, sipping chilled white wine and eating our supper on the lawn of our idyllic rented cottage in Longtown, followed by a lovely, warm Sunday walking through wildflower meadows. What could be better? Come Monday morning, those meadows were sodden. The rain continued on and off for the next four days, ranging from torrential downpours to the kind of irritating warmish drizzle for which neither a waterproof nor an umbrella seems to quite work. It was supposed to be a walking holiday, exploring the lovely wooded Herefordshire countryside, culminating in scaling the path over Bruce Chatwin’s famous Black Hill just above us and walking into Wales. Instead it turned into a ‘practising for retirement’ kind of week – pottering around, lunching out, spotting a nuthatch at the bird feeder and stroking the gorgeous, big, black, purry tomcat who adopted us. That photo really doesn’t do him justice but by our last day he was altogether too relaxed to sit upright for very long.
In between all that lounging about there were a few outings. I met my old Waterstones friend, R, for a coffee in Hereford while H went off to explore the town which, having already visited the Mappa Mundi and the chained library not so long ago, didn’t take him very long. Poor old Hereford’s suffered badly from the ravages of out-of-town shopping plus public spending cuts: I was shocked when R told me the library had closed. The lack of a reliable mobile phone signal and a decent broadband service hasn’t helped, I’m sure. Hay-on-Wye was in much better shape although there were fewer bookshops than I remembered. R had recommended the café at Richard Booth’s bookshop which turned out to be excellent. Lovely shop, too.
By Friday we were so encouraged by the weather forecast that we decided to visit Hampton Court near Leominster. We could have put on our boots and gone for a walk, I suppose, but the prospect of waterlogged fields was distinctly off-putting and by this time we were both well into dawdling mode. We’d visited the gardens about a decade ago when they were freshly laid out and a little too new but now that they’ve matured they’re absolutely delightful: gorgeous herbaceous borders in full flower, a beautiful organic kitchen garden and a suitably jungly sunken area – all set against a grand, wooded riverside backdrop.
And the book? I’d taken Ed Taylor’s Theo with me. It’s published by Old Street Publishing and I’d long assumed they were based in the hipster end of London but it turns out they’re in Brecon not a million miles from where we were staying. Theo is the ten-year-old son of a famous rock musician. Taylor’s novel covers two days in his life during which his mother disappears to ‘rest’ and his father turns up with an entourage, planning to record his next album. Theo spends most of his time in the incapable hands of his grandfather and his father’s friend, running wild but desperate for some sort structure, someone to take responsibility. It’s a little too long, but Taylor captures the slightly panicky, constantly questioning voice of a little boy who seems altogether more mature than the self-obsessed adults who barely register his presence no matter how desperately he begs for their attention.
So, despite everything that the great British weather threw at us we enjoyed our week away. And I discovered a liking for perry, a lovely drink for a hot summer’s day should we ever get one. Back to books shortly…