Shropshire

Shropshire is beautiful. You should go. Right now. I’ll wait…
Back already? Nice, wasn’t it? We just spent a week there in a holiday cottage and it was wonderful.
It was a bit out of the way, and I have to say that the directions left a little to be desired. When talking to the owner, during the traditional “Where do we find the key?” phone call, the woman did warn me that the SatNav (short for Satellite Navigation, what you Americans erroneously call a GPS) wouldn’t bring me to the cottage. She didn’t, however, tell me where it would bring me. All she told me was to watch out for a black sign with a white arrow on it.
And so, we set off, thinking we couldn’t possibly go wrong. It only occurred to me how lacking her directions were when we saw the black sign with the white arrow. It told us we were on the right track, but we weren’t sure what to do with that information. The arrow pointed at a large and cluttered farmyard with a narrow strip of tarmac next to it, which did not look inviting. So, we continued to follow the SatNav, knowing that, at some point, it would steer us wrong, but we didn’t know when that might be.

Of course we went to a castle; the place is lousy with them.

The SatNav had us follow the road (a slightly less narrow strip of tarmac) and stop at a dead end in front of a house that was clearly not our holiday cottage. Fortunately, when we turned around in the driveway, the woman of the house—along with a guy out walking his dog—came over to see what we wanted.

I asked if there was a holiday cottage in the vicinity and she and the guy exchanged knowing looks, then told us how to get there. I think they go through this a lot.
Turns out, the owner should have said, “When you see the black sign with the white arrow, follow the arrow down the lane until it ends. Then keep going. When you can’t go any farther, that’s where the cottage is.”

Iron Bridge–World Heritage Site.
Don\’t let the photo fool you, there is a lot more to do
there than just stare at an iron bridge.

We did as the dog-walker suggested and found the cottage just as the owners were finishing getting it ready for us. They gave us the keys, showed us around, and then we never saw them again, which is what I like in a host, and which, I am sure, they appreciate in a guest.

Now, we have previously stayed at cottages where we needed the SatNav to get there, but we have never before stayed at a cottage where we needed the SatNav for the entire week, to not only continue to find the cottage after a day of sight-seeing, but also to find our way out in order to go sight-seeing. It was, in a word, remote.

There were canals everywhere, and they provided some excellent walks.

They also had an impressive aqueduct…

…and an impressive tunnel.
This is what it looked like from the outside.

This is what it looked like on the inside.

When we first started going on cottage holidays, we used to dine out every night. It wasn’t long before that got old, so we starting decreasing the frequency of restaurant meals and increasing the number of dine-at-home meals until, for the past several years, our routine has evolved into us arriving in the area of the cottage early so we can find a supermarket and do a week’s shop. Then, we spend the week going out in the mornings to a local tourist site and returning in the afternoons to potter about with our respective hobbies, make dinner, do the washing up and sit in front of the telly until it’s time to go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book. We, therefore, don’t really go on holiday, we simply live in another part of the country for a week. In this case, I was doubly grateful for our established routine because—SatNav or no—we’d never have found the cottage in the dark.

If you’ve ever stayed in a holiday cottage, you’ll know there are two type of hosts. One is the kind whose prime motivation is kitting out their offering as inexpensively as possible. This results in a week of disappointments as you discover cheap utilities, shoddy furnishings, inadequate plumbing (we once stayed in a cottage where the bathroom sink was so small I could literally—that’s literally in the literal sense—cover it with my hand), hard beds, flat pillows, thin blankets and single-ply toilet paper. The other type of host has a bit of pride and doesn’t fall for the false economy of buying cheap, knowing that buying quality means less breakage and wear, and results in satisfied guests who might turn into repeat customers. I am pleased to report that our latest hosts were of the latter persuasion. The cottage was well-appointed, with comfortable furniture, quality white goods, perfectly acceptable water pressure and plush toilet paper.
The weather, however, was not as accommodating. It was cool all week, cloudy and, from Thursday on, rainy. Still, we managed to visit some nice sites and see a great deal of stunning scenery. Then the food ran out, so we knew it was time to move out of the cottage and back into our flat, where we go out and do things in the mornings, potter about with our respective hobbies in the afternoons, make dinner, do the washing up and sit in front of the telly until it’s time to go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book, leaving unanswered the eternal question, “If you’re retired, how do you know when you’re on holiday?”

Shrewsbury, a perfectly adequate little city, even in the rain.