I’ve always wanted to own my own dinner jacket.
Before now, I’ve always had to rent them, and at £40 a go, for the 4 times I’ve needed one, I could have bought one outright.
So this year after re-reading Debrets guide to the modern gentleman, I decided to buy one. And, amazingly a brand new looking M&S dinner jacket is mine on ebay for only £10 plus £3 postage.
A nice dress shirt to go with it, wasn’t so cheap, but I already had a bow tie (a gift from Jason Mayer).
Once the ensemble was complete, it was just a matter of taking it for a test drive.
But where ?
Need a multi function printer ?.
Enter Vaughn Rawson, a guy I’ve done business with for years, who was hosting a summer ball, and invited Nikki and I to attend.
Held at Chester Racecourse the AT spring ball is now an annual event.
The event raises money for the very worthy causes of AT & Sparks (last year raising £23,000 from this event alone).
I had a fantastic time, and its hard to capture it all in writing, but I’ll have a go.
Delicious food, a superb rendition by the Wrexham community choir, a Take That tribute band and a stand up comedian. In between, excellent company from some great people on our table and some folk I met at the bar.
We even won something in the raffle and later Nikki got me up dancing (bystanders said she looked like she was dancing with a chair).
I’d like to thank Vaughn and his wife Jo for inviting us and organising the evening which was superb in every way possible.
A few weeks earlier, Nikki had decided to go Skiing (some people are into that stuff) and rather inconveniently took 2 of my favourite friends with her.
At a lose end, I’d been invited to a farewell weekend for a walking friend, Cheryl. It was in Ironbridge, and as I’d seen the sign above several times on the railway platform in Warrington, I decided to get on board (the adventure, not the train).
For some years I’d wanted to visit Ironbridge.
At first, it sounds a bit daft. I mean the first place in the world that had an Ironbridge, builds an entire town and industry on people coming to see it.
But that’s exactly what it does !.
I left half day, and travel;ed down with Brian. For all the tourism and promotion, on first sight, I still thought it was a superb bridge.
The reason for the event, was Cheryl was leaving.
Well actually, its not as simple as that.
Cheryl, was a cool friend, and co member of the Chester and District Walking Group.
She previously worked in theatre (the ones with scalpels, not Noel Coward or any of that stuff) at Chester hospital.
Leaving Chester to do a course in Birmingham, it was her intention to finish the course in 2 years and return to Chester with things back to normal.
As John Lennon put it well “Life is what happens while your making other plans”. Cheryl settled there, got a good job, made some friends and met someone so she’d decided to stay.
So, the farce, was that this was a leaving do, but the main person (Cheryl) wasn’t actually leaving, so calling it a staying do would have been more appropriate 🙂
Everyone else was due to arrive in the evening, so Brian and I wandered around the coffee houses and pubs and even visited the tourist information, where we resisted the urge to buy tat.
We finally make our way to the youth hostel at Coalport.
Another superb example of the YHA’s modernisation. Plenty of room, bright and spotlessly clean, for reasonable money.
We check in, and wait for Dave E.
Turns out, everyone else is arriving in the morning, so its just the 3 of us. We have fish and chips in the hostel and then head out to try out some of the pubs.
The first 1 we come too, is flooded, so nothing doing there. We head to The Black Swan. Pretty good pub, where we see out the evening.
In the morning everyone arrives and we get ready to go off walking.
Recent construction has “blocked in” this section of the canal. As it can no longer flow, it turns green.
The buildings around are all from the turning point of the industrial age.
Everyone arrives and without further ado, we set off walking.
First place we come to, is the pub we visited the previous night which had been flooded.
They were still clearing up, but let us in to look around.
The Boat Inn has been flooded a dozens of times, and the hight of the flooding is marked on the front door.
The earliest recording was 1934, and the highest one, is in the year 2000.
We continue walking, and its good to catch up with everyone.
Cheryl is an environmentalist and explains that one of her friends calls this area the womb of industrialism.
Next to the Green wood centre is Cherry’s cafe (Brian and I had recce’d it the day before and it was superb).
After some messing about with tables so we could all sit together we got a drink and some nice food.
In the background, there is a piece of wood on the fridge, “signed” by Ben Fogle.
In the foreground is Cheryl in a reflective mood with daffodils.
Wander around the Green wood centre (if you google it be careful not to get the old peoples home).
Various stuff for making things from Green wood, similar to the stuff I’ve seen and used at Woodsmoke.
Really interesting, was the accommodation.
They had these sort of wooden tents, off the ground, made for 1 – 2 people.
We continue wandering, and for some reason take in various inner city areas. Good news is, we finally find a cash machine.
We continue walking, reaching this high place with a view across the town.
Dave is briefly engaged by some JW’s but escapes unharmed.
Couple of drinks in the Golden Balls (fantastic name, and pretty good pub) and then we had home to get cleaned up and ready for the evening.
I move out of the dorm, and into a twin room, which is a bit more comfortable.
We try a nearby pub which ridiculously, is open, but has its front door locked.
After 10 minutes of trying to get them to open the door we gave up the ghost and headed elsewhere.
The Old Robin Hood Inn had a sort of Bunker room. Burger and Chips for £5.50.
The hostel had coped well, despite being packed.
Many of the guests were at a company conference (and yet were staying at a Youth Hostel ? Sounded like pyramid selling to me 🙂
In the morning, I got to see how the other half lived. About 25 of our fellow guests, were from a walking group in the North East.
They were picked up in a coach no less !.
Once everyone’s up, were off out on another walk.
This time, were in my favourite environment, forests.
Its a bitter sweet moment. I’m enjoying myself, but I know my friend Cheryl is settling in Birmingham, and I wont see as much of her.
I give her a leaving gift to seal the moment (I was going to give her a signed photograph of myself, but instead decided on a bivvi bag).
We stop in the trail for lunch.
A while later we head back into town, have some Italian coffee and bid our friends farewell, before heading home.
Not much happens in the following week, but I see this picture of Glenn’s son Jack in the paper.
Pretty impressive stuff.
A week later, and some of the same faces and I are heading out the the YHA affiliates meeting.
I take the whole Friday off, to make the most of the time.
We stop off at a book shop called Brierlow Bar. They have a full box set of the Wainwright’s for £50. Instead I’m sensible and buy a book about the Monsal Trail, then and now (a walk I’ll be leading in a few weeks).
After this, we stop for lunch at the Cat and Fiddle. My 2nd visit, I absolutely love that place (chilli and rice).
We arrive at YHA Ilam hall.
Its an absolutely beautiful building.
I sometimes hear people asking why you’d stay at a youth hostel as “similar prices” are available at travel inn or travel lodge.
I usually answer in 3 parts:
1. Youth hostels aren’t like they used to be. You don’t do chores, the dorms usualy have 4-6 beds, the place is spotless its a vibrant relaxing environment
2. The focus of a Youth Hostel is the outdoors. If you ask ANY member of staff if they know of a good walk to do, or if there’s a lake where its possible to go canoeing, they’ll know the answer.
3. The main one for me is the location. This is a Gothic stately home, and I’ll be sleeping here for £15 per night. How many people can say that.
We arrive in the evening, get set up in our rooms, then get some dinner and a bottle of wine and find somewhere to relax.
The event we’re attending is the following day.
Its a day long meeting for walking/cycling/outdoor groups who are affiliated with the YHA.
Last year I’d attended and found it really interesting.
Towards the end, there’d been a discussion about social media and search engine optimisation. Brian had jumped up and pointed at me, and told everyone I’d know the answer.
I was flattered and with a whole room full of people staring at me, quite terrified.
This year, I offered to give a talk on those subjects and they willingly agreed.
The conference begins with welcomes and introductions, then straight onto a talk about volunteering.
But unfortunately, the volunteering specialist is away so it turns into a talk on fund raising and the option of leaving money in your will to the YHA.
Then its a break for coffee.
I know my subject well (and had help from Jo in marketing and Dan & Andy from Latitude), but that doesn’t stop me from being slightly nervous.
I go outside for a walk and wander around this church, which is in the grounds of Ilam hall.
Just a little further away, is the Italian garden.
Inspired by the surroundings, I head back into the room and give my talk.
It seems to go down really well, and I get asked lots of questions while being ably supported by the 3 members of our group (including Brian, who caused this in the first place 🙂
After this, one of the trustees gives a talk on his groups new website (using embedded wordpress like johnsunter.com that your reading now)
From here, its decided to break, get something to eat and then go for a walk. I get some delicious lunch, which is complimentary and head straight out.
Its a beautiful day.
So beautiful in fact, that when the walk ends an hour later, Graham and I decide to stay out and do the walk around Dovedale, leaving Jo and Brian to attend the afternoon session of the meeting.
A bit naughty of us, and the organisers aren’t happy. But its the UK, weather like this doesn’t happen every day.
We headed for Dovedale ravine, which is quite famous in the area.
This is one of the famous Dove holes.
At one point, we stop for a brief rest. I realise a couple of hundred metres later, that I’ve lost my wallet.
I run back and some children have found it and when I arrive, come straight over and ask if I’ve lost a wallet.
I open the wallet and give them some money for sweets (or in these modern times, fruit 🙂
Stretched for time, Graham consults the map, next to Ilam Rock.
With the walk almost completed, we arrive back at the famous stepping stones.
As we get back to Ilam hall, we can see it in the sunlight.
Car is already loaded, so we jump in, and head for home.
But the adventure isnt over.
On the way back, we stop off at this authentic bikers pub that Brian used to frequent called the Yew Tree.
A quick pint, then off home.
The following day its Sunday and I’m inside another amazing building.
I’m working all day on an infrastructure project !.