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Bewitching Chester: Royston & Saffron Walden Holiday Club

12th June 2023

Richard, one of our fabulous GTOs has provided an account of his recent tour to Chester.

'The Saffron Walden contingent of the holiday group departed Swan Meadows coach park on Monday 15th May bound for two further pick-ups at Melbourn and Royston. Aboard the luxurious Mercedes coach driven by Tina, our driver for the holiday trip, were thirteen holidaymakers who were joined by a further seven at the Melbourn stop, and ten at Royston. After passengers and luggage were all safely aboard, at 09:05 all thirty holidaymakers set off from Royston on their short break to Chester. The weather was perfect – sunny, breezy, and warm. Our route, took us to Baddesley Clinton, a National Trust property in Warwickshire which was to be our rest stop on the journey to Chester, both for the group and to give Tina her statutory break.

We arrived and a National Trust guide directed Tina to the coach park and then came on board to give the group some information about Baddesley Clinton, and to hand out timed tickets for the house visit. Most people opted to visit the house first as the entry tickets were timed for fifteen minutes after our arrival. Baddesley Clinton is an ancient and romantic moated house and estate set in a secluded and intimate location within the Forest of Arden. One of the key attractions in Baddesley Clinton is the priest hole, used to shelter Catholics during this period of Catholic persecution after the Reformation. The Walled Garden, created in the early eighteenth century, adds to the romantic and intriguing atmosphere of the estate, and by the late nineteenth century, the house, garden, and parkland were being enjoyed as an artists’ retreat by a group known as ‘The Quartet’ led by Marmion Ferrers.

The restaurant was open for lunch and light refreshments and your reporter chose a delicious curried vegetable pasty and a coffee for lunch. This was followed by a walk around the garden in the sunshine, and then down to the lake. The group boarded the coach and we left Baddesley Clinton en-route for Chester and our four-night stay at the Queen at Chester Hotel, via the M6 toll road, which was a lovely road – smooth with very little traffic and no potholes! On Tuesday 16th the group had a leisurely breakfast and then met in Reception for a guided walk around Roman Chester (hereinafter Deva), taking us back nearly 2000 years. Our guide was an extremely fit Roman centurion called Tiberius, who turned out to have several other Roman legionaries roaming around Deva at the same time (none of whom, incidentally, was called Beryl – in joke!) because his tour company was ‘Roman Tours Chester’. The tour was fun, fun, fun all the way plus a bit of debauchery since one of our first stops was in Foregate Street, which was apparently the centre of the universe for a Roman soldier in Deva seeking drinking, gambling, and some brothel action. We then proceeded to the remains of the Roman baths where evidence of underfloor heating can be seen. Men stripped to nothing in the baths but the women wore goat skin bikinis – it was very noisy!

In the afternoon, the group were booked on a boat trip on the river Dee for two hours. The boat cruised along the river to the Aldford Iron Bridge and back, and there was a commentary pointing out interesting facts about the area. Once on board we were served with a mouth-watering cream tea consisting of scones, strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream, and tea or coffee. After tea, most group members moved to the upper deck of the boat in order to take advantage of the beautiful, sun-drenched river views.

At the end of the voyage, Tina met us with the coach at the Groves which was the embarkation area on the river Dee, and the group returned to the hotel for a rest before dinner that evening. After another delicious, freshly cooked breakfast, the group gathered outside the hotel for the hour’s coach journey to Llangollen. The route chosen was through the dramatic Horseshoe Pass where the scenery is spectacular, the Welsh hills are truly beautiful! Our driver, Tina, had to put all her driving skills to good use on this drive along the road clinging to the steep hillside. On the journey we passed the remains of Valle Crucis Abbey, founded in 1201, and Tina kindly slowed down so that all the passengers had a good view of the beautiful, peaceful ruins.

After arriving at the town car park, the group began to make their leisurely way to the Llangollen wharf for their two-hour cruise along the Llangollen canal. There was a lovely café at the wharf where people could treat themselves to mid-morning coffee and cake and then sit outside in the glorious warm sunshine. Eventually, it was time for ‘all aboard’ the Thomas Telford narrowboat, everyone took their seats and, after a short safety briefing, we were quietly chugging along the canal admiring the calm, clear water, the gorgeous, spring-fresh green of the tree foliage, and the abundant wildlife which included a heron, ducks with their families of ducklings, and moorhens. Refreshments were available on the canal boat including tasty barra brith cake which was eventually sold out because it was so good! Eventually, we reached the world-renowned Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, through which the canal flows at a height of 126 feet above the river Dee. Built by Thomas Telford between 1795 and 1805 and supported by eighteen stone piers, cruising along it is a truly amazing if slightly surreal, experience. Our narrowboat cruise terminated in Froncysyllte where the group disembarked in order to re-join the coach.

From the car park in Llangollen, the group made their way back down the hill to Llangollen Station in order to catch the 15:10 return service to Carrog. There was a café on the station where refreshments were available to purchase prior to the journey. Eventually, we were all aboard again and enjoying the beautiful scenery and the sunshine with stops at Berwyn and Glyndyfrdwy, and passing through Deeside Halt. A break at Carrog enabled people to use the station café, and to visit the station shop. The return journey set off at 16:10 arriving back in Llangollen at 16:41 where it was a climb up the hill to re-join the coach for the drive back to Chester and dinner. Our visit to Tatton Park began after another leisurely and delicious breakfast. The journey took 45 minutes and we arrived at the car park on the estate having been shown ‘our parking spot’ by an extremely knowledgeable and helpful guide, who also handed out maps of the gardens and grounds, and showed us all into the estate via the Stable Block area. Here, we were given an introductory talk that revealed that Tatton Park was under the joint administration of The National Trust and Cheshire County Council, and that previously it had been home to the Egerton family for over 400 years. 

The elegant features of the striking mansion were gradually added by the family as each spent their time in the home, until today we have the beautiful house and expansive grounds that is Tatton Park. Group members were then free to enjoy the house and gardens for the day, together with a restaurant and shop. Our visit was perfectly timed to take in the stunning colours of the rhododendrons in bloom, and one of the highlights of the estate is the Japanese Garden, although this is only visible from the outside. After all that breath-taking excitement, your reporter notes that the group left Tatton Park, arriving at the Queen at Chester Hotel with time for a rest before the last supper. Before departure, Stephen Marshall presented our holiday leader, Richard Priestley, with a card signed by group members, a book on Roman Chester, and a small gift of (what else!) four Roman gladiators, as a big thank you for organising such a fabulous holiday.

Suddenly it’s Friday 19th May and, sadly, the last day of our holiday in Chester. It’s suitcases out of rooms by 08:00 ready for collection by the hotel staff, and breakfast. Our group departed Chester en-route to Erddig near Wrexham. Most people went for coffee and a cake in the upstairs stables area, followed by a wander around the eighteenth-century garden, a unique example of an early formal garden in Wales. The garden, although formal, is not enclosed, and stretches out into the landscape, possibly the most complete example of this gardening style in the United Kingdom. The sun in the stables courtyard was hot – the perfect day for sitting outside with ice cream, but all too soon it was time to return to the coach. The weather on this holiday was just perfect, warm, sunny, and dry, however, as we journeyed home the rain came down in torrents. Shortly before arriving at Melbourn, Richard thanked our driver, Tina, for driving us all so skilfully and safely throughout the holiday and for being such fun, and so helpful. The epithets used were ‘skillful’, ‘careful’, ‘helpful’, and ‘personable’. We were thus safely delivered to Melbourn at 19:00, Royston at 19:15, and Saffron Walden at 19:45.'