Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tuesday 22 April

 We spent our Easter weekend at the National Vintage Tractor Road Run in Shropshire. It was touch and go whether we'd actually make it this year, as we found out quite late that the lorry's MOT had expired. HGV MOT's are done at special government centers and tend to be booked up months in advance. We were hoping to go on Good Friday, but by the Monday we'd still not had a test date. On Wednesday B. got a phone call to say that there'd been a cancellation and the lorry was going in on Thursday morning - but with a retest booked for after Easter, so it had to pass if we wanted to go. Fortunately it sailed through and on Thursday evening B. loaded up the John Deere (which had been in pieces only the weekend before to have its radiator replaced) and drove down to mine.We were off to Shropshire!

We set out early on Friday morning so we could make it into a bit of a mini break, the run not being held until Sunday. We stopped for our usual coffee at the Wild Bean Cafe on the A14 and filled up with diesel next to the little cousin of our tractor:

We got to the tractor site around lunchtime and discovered only a handful of tractors had arrived. We unloaded our tractor and got her into the line-up, had a quick look around and then set off to do some sight-seeing.

The run was organised just outside Bridgnorth and I'd read beforehand that it was a lovely little town with lots to see, not least the High Town and Low Town and the funicular railway. We found a parking spot in the High Town (always a challenge with a lorry!) and wandered off into the town. It was lovely - we started off in a small close set around St. Leonard's Church with some beautiful buildings:

The High Town and Low Town are linked by seven sets of steps, and we made our way to the Low Town via one set of these. We had a look around the Low Town

and then took the funicular railway back up to the High Town. It is supposed to be the shortest, steepest funicular railway in Britain - it certainly was steep!

A local had recommended a walk along the castle wall as it had fabulous views, and he was right. Plus we found a lovely church which turned out to be designed by Thomas Telford.

While we were looking around the church, someone was setting out chairs, so B. asked if something was organised. It turned out that there would be a concert that evening, free, with coffee and hot cross buns afterwards. We took a leaflet and then walked on towards the steam train station where we took the last train of the day

On the way out we were just sitting at one of the tables and you could be on any train, but on our return we were in the carriage directly behind the locomotive. We took turns in putting our heads out of the window and watching the wheels and the other machinery move and hiss and puff. Great fun.

After the train journey on our way back to the lorry we passed the church where the concert was being held, and as it was only 15 minutes before it was due to start, we decided to pop in and see what it was like. We both really enjoyed it - a very competent choir and a chamber orchestra, performing among others Fauré's Requiem. It was a beautiful setting for such emotive music, and we were both glad we went.
We rounded the day off with a cheese fondue in the lorry, which made me laugh - how many people can say they've had a cheese fondue in a lorry?

On the other side of the road where the tractors were all parked up, was a field that was obviously meant as overflow parking area. Nobody was using it, so I convinced B. that we could, thinking we could park the lorry inconspicuously alongside the hedge at the bottom of the field. Although he thought I was a bit strange, wanting to park away from all the action, he parked the lorry in full view of everyone right next to the toilets.... but it turned out to actually be quite nice having the field all to ourselves. We were woken with lots of little birds in the grass and although you can't tell from here, we had views for miles around. (We did get a few comments from fellow tractor runners saying 'o is it YOU who parked in that field!')

The next morning after breakfast we wandered over to where the tractor action was to get ourselves a coffee.

Considering 500 tractors were registered to take part, not many had turned up on Saturday morning yet, but we expected it to get busier over the day. We chatted to a few owners, I tried to look knowledgable every time B. launched into technical details (that man can beat anyone at a tractor pub quiz) and missed my proper camera (that is an ongoing saga - still no sign of it and repairer has stopped replying to phone calls/emails).
Once I couldn't bear to hear any more 'this one was never imported into Britain', I dragged B. off for some more touristy stuff. We had no real plans for this day, other than that I'd noticed near Much Wenlock were a few priories and the route there looked nice too. So we headed off in the general direction of Much Wenlock and decided just to see what we would find along the way.
Along a little countrylane we came across a small country church, where we stopped and had a look around. One of the things I like about visiting other parts of the country, is seeing how different the buildings are. The churches I see on my bike rides, are all different, but they are usually constructed from the same building material and have a fairly similar building style. You go to another county and the old buildings have an entirely different style, which makes you very aware that you're somewhere else.

We then drove on towards Much Wenlock, which we explored after a spot of lunch. It is a lovely village with historic buildings wherever you look

We weren't sure whether to visit Wenlock Priory but when we saw this beautiful house from a distance, we decided to have a look. And it didn't disappoint, the ruins that are left behind, are still beautiful

We were given an audio tour of the priory, but preferred just to wander around and marvel at the skills of the building work. The priory reminded us both of Tintern Abbey which we visited on the tractor road run last year, albeit on a much smaller scale.
By now it was time to start thinking about heading back to the tractor site, as we'd booked a meal and entertainment for that evening. We took a pretty route back 'home' and came across this power station near  Ironbridge

It's hard to tell from the photos but the chimneys were huge and very impressive. It was now past closing time, else we would have asked if they did tours.

We drove through Ironbridge, where we've both been before so we didn't stop, and then stopped in Coalport as I spotted what looked like another funicular railway. It turned out to be part of the tar tunnel, which is another visitor attraction, also closed. We went down the steps to have a look and got kindly let in by someone who happened to be locking up - 'go and have a quick look' - so we ran down to the end of the tunnel, turned around, came back!

We had a look around at the buildings in this village, which also has the Tile Museum (would have enjoyed visiting that), a fabulous bike shop with very expensive looking bikes (but I still prefer my trusty ditch bike!) and a youth hostel in a beautiful looking Victorian building.

It was then back to the tractor site for the evening meal and entertainment.  The food was good, the entertainment was dire, as is traditional at these tractor gatherings. The best bit was the tractor raffle - the tractor was won by someone from Cornwall, who gave it to his son who happened to turn 16 that weekend, and drove his new toy in the run the next day. Such a sweet story!

The next day was the road run itself, due to start at 9.30, so we were up and about on time to get the tractor started and be ready to set out. Unfortunately, the two tractors in front of us didn't have a driver (stuck in the mile long coffee queue?), but with 500 (mostly) farmers, there is always someone quite inventive and they found the key and managed to push both tractors out of the way...!

The morning section of the route was amazing. We drove through the center of Bridgnorth, getting lots of waves and cheers. Our tractor gets a lot of attention anyway as it is usually the only one with narrow front wheel - it looks like the Robin Reliant of tractors, it makes people smile.
It was cold but dry, but the first part was much longer (almost four hours, it turned out later) than it normally is and by the lunchtime stop I was so stiff and cold I couldn't stop shaking when we went to get our lunch. And then it started raining too. And then after lunch I started off driving, but it was off-road and something happened and I suddenly lost my tractor driving nerve. I spent the next two hours clinging on white-knuckled, imagining the worst-case scenarios. I'm still not sure what caused it, specially as I was very relaxed during the morning. When we came back home, I read my blog post from last year and it seems I did a similar thing. I think it's probably just lack of experience, but I felt very frustrated at not being able to enjoy myself. When we returned to the tractor site, I did drive the tractor through the field (a bit like getting back on the horse as soon as possible after you've fallen), but it wasn't the same.

B. loaded up the tractor and we, or rather he, drove back home that same evening. We both always feel a bit sad that after a day out like that, people don't hang about. Even as you're returning to the tractor site, lorries with tractors loaded on are already leaving. I know some people have a long way to go back home, but it would be nice to wait till all the tractors are back and then have a quick cup of tea to say 'well done, we did it' and then be on your way. In the past we'd planned to stay on for Easter Monday but it just doesn't feel the same staying on when everybody around you is loading up and leaving.

Looking back we had a fabulous weekend. We've now done 5 runs and I think we both enjoyed this one the best. It is a lovely mixture of getting to know a part of the country you might not otherwise get to visit, messing around with tractors, meeting like-minded people, and just having a weekend away. It's an adventure.
Unfortunately next year's run, which is being held in Gretna, is on 15yo's birthday. If I knew we could make it back the same day I might consider going, but as it's so far away, there is no chance we'll be back on time to still see her on her birthday, so we won't be going. But we'll definitely do the one after that - I've already checked the dates for Easter in 2016 and they don't clash with any birthdays :-)