Several months ago I undertook to spend a weekend with a group of old friends from my past days of motorcycling. I paid my deposit, marked the calendar and promptly forgot all the details. All I knew was that we would be riding (or driving in my case) around wonderful roads somewhere in
Middle Earth middle England.
Last week, as the outing approached, I decided to maintain my ignorance in the hope of a pleasant surprise. I really had no idea where I was going, which is often par for the course these days if I’m honest. Thus it was that on Friday, bright and early, I sat in my Macan, all packed and primed, and entered the appropriate postcode into the navigator: CV35 8BE.
Somewhere in England
All this told me that the destination would be somewhere in the large Coventry postal district. Keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be spending the weekend in Coventry itself (delightful as it undeniably is), I sallied forth with the navigator set to “avoid motorways”.
A couple of hours later, after a pit stop at a delightful country pub, I drew into the pebbly forecourt of the Glebe Hotel in the picture-postcard-perfect Warwickshire village of Barford. Barford was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 and has changed just a little, but not much, since then.
This was indeed a very pleasant revelation, the first of several during the weekend. I do love the typical English village, seemingly far from anywhere but in reality just a mile or two from busy roads and urban spread — in this case a few clicks from Warwick and not far from Stratford-on-Avon.
As things turned out, the Glebe, despite its rather faded exterior paintwork and an intermittently functioning lift, was a gem. The staff members were friendly and attentive and the room was comfortable. The food was excellent. I’d recommend it to anyone touring the area around Stratford; it is of a
The village store
With a few hours to kill, I did a quick tour of Barford. Despite the eye candy, on the surface there isn’t a lot to do. I found one pub (closed) and the impressive village shop which doubles as a post office and cafe. This turned out to be typical of a new phenomenon, the cooperative village store, as popularised by the venerable BBC radio soap, The Archers.
This show has been broadcast every weekday for the past 68 years. As a result, it knows a thing or two about country life. With nearly 20,000 episodes in the can, it is the world’s longest-running drama and has been responsible for encouraging a raft of village stores throughout the land.
When the programme started in 1951 there would have been a full house of shops of all descriptions in the fictional village of Ambridge. Now there is just the cooperative village store.
The old shops and facilities have been forced out of business because of competition from supermarkets and larger towns. In Barford, as in Ambridge, the locals have got together to run their own central facility.
These stores are usually non-profit and operated for the good of the community, although I don’t know the status of the Barford enterprise. Because everyone is involved, most locals make an effort to support the venture instead of making too-frequent car journeys to the nearest Tesco or Sainsbury.
When I visited it was staffed by two local ladies who share shifts with neighbours. The whole atmosphere was genteel, a sort of Women
One of the ladies explained that Barford, in common with many such villages, had experienced a flow of in-comers over the past decades and there are now few residents who have been born and bred in the area. This perhaps explains why there is little going on during a hot Friday afternoon. They’re all making cars.
Apparently, Barford is a favourite dormitory village for engineers working on Jaguars and Land Rovers at the nearby Gaydon factory. You wouldn’t think it, though, to look at the quiet streets, miraculously free of parked Range Rovers.
Actually, it isn’t such a marvel because the local authority has been generous with the application of double-yellow lines to forbid parking. As a result, apart from the white road markings, the village centre looks timeless. Not 1086 timeless, of course, but 1920ish timeless.
Impressions can be misleading, of course. Despite the dearth of overt facilities (or, perhaps, because of) there is an impressive social whirlpool lurking just beneath the surface. A glance at the village noticeboard shows that extra-curricular activities are legion.
If that board is to believed, there is something for everyone in Barford, with never a dull moment to be had. I urge you to zoom in on the photography if you wish to find out what they get up to in a sleepy Warwickshire village. It’s Facebook with pins.
As I returned to the Glebe, all my old friends were arriving and we were getting set for a leisurely tour of Warwickshire and Worcestershire on the following day.
Old codgers and dodgers
Since I no longer ride bikes, I spent an entertaining Saturday in the company two of my old business colleagues, trundling up and down unfeasibly narrow roads, just wide enough for one car. Passing places were as rare as rocking horse manure and we had several near misses along the way.
On one memorable occasion (which set three ageing hearts aflutter) the over-confident driver of a huge Audi came blasting around a blind bend only to be confronted by us three old codgers in our Kia Venga, eyes wide in shock and caught like rabbits in Darth Vadar’s headlights.
An expletive escaped my lips. The Audi driver took one look at us and concluded (correctly, I judge, in the circumstances) that we would be incapable on age grounds of backing down the hill to the nearest refuge. Snicking into reverse, he careered backwards uphill for about 300 yards at an equally fast rate of knots.
This was a tour de force which we, in our more tender years, might well have contemplated and executed. On this occasion, however, our little car, with its combined 250-year-old cargo followed meekly to the top, grateful to have been spared the indignity of ending up in the ditch.
The highlight of our little 180-mile ramble was an afternoon-tea visit to a museum I hadn’t known existed. This was the remarkable Bugatti Trust, next to the famous Prescott Hill Climb. Situated on the outskirts of Gotherington, near Cheltenham, the Trust building is small but perfectly stuffed with Bugatti cars, engines and 1920s technical wizardry.
It is also the home to most of the factory’s technical drawings and, according to trust chairman, Hugh Conway, attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. It has become a world centre of excellence for Bugatti aficionados.
Hugh was kind enough to show me around his pristine 1928 Bugatti Type 43, a sports version of the Type 35, powered by a 2.3-litre supercharged motor. This lovely vehicle was parked invitingly outside the Trust HQ and, judging by Hugh’s cap and goggles on the front seat, had spent the morning out on the byways.
With luck, he never had to back up a narrow hill to escape a trio of ancients in a Korean hatchback. Hugh explained that the car had been purchased by his father, the founder of the Bugatti Trust, in the early 1950s and he had inherited it.
Hugh decided it was a car worth using rather than simply parking in a museum display: “It’s probably good for a hundred but it purrs along happily at sixty — it can be a bit of a handful in modern traffic at higher speeds.” Understatement, I suspect. If we’d had the misfortune to encounter the Type 43 coming down the narrow hill the outcome could have been different.
Hugh then pulled out his camera from the back seat of the Bugatti. A Sony, by way of sacrilege. I had expected nothing less than a Leica Model 1A Luxus to emerge from a car of this provenance.
Around every corner
Discovering the Bugatti Trust was totally unexpected and all the more delightful for it. Of course, I am familiar with the existence of the Prescott Hill Climb although I can’t remember having visited in the past. I might have done, but it would have been so long ago in my journalist days that I’ve forgotten. Of the Bugatti Trust, I knew nothing, so the occasion was all the more entertaining.
As you travel around the English counties, away from fast roads and motorways, trundling through pretty villages, it’s often surprising to find a museum or historical feature around almost every corner. Figuratively speaking, you understand, but it is something of an impression one gathers after an outing around the countryside.
No doubt had we not had a navigation system in the car, we would still be trundling around, condemned forever to climb the narrow hills of Worcestershire land run the gauntlets of furiously piloted Audis.
On one occasion we did indeed get lost and had to resort to analogue technology. Our driver produced a battered old road atlas (remember them?) and we looked up the index. Page 14, it said. We searched and found pages 15 and 16. At some stage, the fourteenth page had been ripped out. Now that never happens to Google Maps, although greater perils can lurk on narrow short-cuts if you follow the