There was one day left in England before heading to France and we had things to do, besides pack. Denise and I drove into Congleton after a stop at a post office where I mailed home an expensive box filled with inexpensive souvenirs. (But it was worth paying for it just so I wouldn’t have to lug it around France plus be charged for a 2nd additional bag on Ryan Air.) Of course, in a busy British neighborhood post office, on a Saturday, was one of the very few times on this trip when my debit card wouldn’t work because of the changing credit card ‘pin system’ going on in Europe now. On top of that, I hadn’t gone to the cash machine first, so luckily Denise came to the rescue as the lone Postmaster was very patient and understanding with the whole situation. The line was almost going out the door behind me and I felt embarrassed for holding things up, although the postmaster assured me that it was quite all right, they would just have to wait, and he was open until 3 (it was about 11) so there was plenty of time. I love that laid back British attitude.
The Cheshire District in the North Country of England seemed to bring out my inner kid. This was even where Lewis Carroll lived awhile and naming the “Cheshire Cat” in Alice in Wonderland after this district.
Then there is the town called Congleton, which is known for bears, among other things. Funny thing is, my late mom loved and collected bears (mostly very cool miniature figurines) and she would have loved to know that her cousin lived in a town that was known for its bears.
The first settlements in Congleton were Neolithic, Stone Age, and Bronze. Much later, Congleton became a market town after the Vikings destroyed Davenport. The Romans are thought to have been here, too, which is no wonder even if they haven’t found evidence of that…yet. William the Conquerer gave the district of Cheshire over to his nephew, the Earl of Chester. Much history follows with it’s first charter signed in 1272 by the 3rd Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, to not only hold fairs but also to behead criminals. On that note, the town charter was stamped with approval.
In 1451 the River Dane flooded and the town was destroyed, they rerouted the river, and rebuilt Congleton on higher ground.
In the 1620s, cockfighting and bear-baiting became popular sports in Congleton. But officials wanted larger crowds so they needed a bigger and meaner bear. Rumor has it they sold the town bible to acquire funding for a new bear. However, the truth was, they used the money they were going to pay to get a new bible, to actually buy the bear, and when the crowds increased putting more money in the coffers, they were able to replenish the fund to buy the new bible.
Another publicized story from Congleton, is about John Bradshaw, mayor and lawyer, and, as this article I was reading called him, a regicide, because he penned his name as the first signature on the decree to execute Charles I in 1649. On the wall of The White Lion public house, there is a blue plaque stating that Bradshaw’s attorney office was here and he served his articles from here in this 16th century building. (Note that this White Lion still has some old Christmas, um, holiday trees, (which have seen better days) hanging on the facade.)
Fast forward to the 21st century and Congleton is still a market town with a nice pedestrian area where we stopped for some pastries (The photo showing the pastry shop isn’t where we actually stopped for pastries. This is called poetic license as I didn’t have a photo of the one we went to but did have a photo of this one just up the street). It’s a pleasant little town where having a cappuccino in a little covered walkway was a pleasant experience.
Congleton was also an important player in the textile industry well known for leather gloves, silk and lace (my kind of mill!). Interesting and diverse product line.
This little village park celebrates not only awards for being pretty but back in the early days of film, used to show silent movies in the little clubhouse with musicians playing mood tunes and is now celebrating the current Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee. I do recall seeing other celebratory remnants of last year’s big occasion when in London two weeks prior, too. It was a big year for London with the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And now a royal baby on the way who could well be a future monarch. All very exciting stuff for royalists (like me).
Later, John took me to what would be my very own version of Stonehenge, especially since I have never seen the real Stonehenge nor the Avebury standing stones (which are said to be better since you can actually walk amongst them). This little out-of-the-way monument appears to be a pretty low key tourist attraction, with me being the only tourist. (John hung out at the car at the far end of the long driveway, not sure why, but maybe I was on private land and this place called for another ‘quick getaway.’) Now, this was my kind of tourist attraction. Quiet. Rundown. No one else to step around while I took photos. And it was just pretty darn cool. Such history. And how many different ways can a person photograph a few rocks? Let me show you:
A brief rundown of the history of these is they are called the Bridestones Neolithic Chambered Long Cairn (thanks, John!). It’s the only known tomb in Cheshire to date to the Neolithic period 3500-2400 BC. It is on the west flank of Cloud Hill facing westerly over Cheshire County. Apparently, from what has been gathered historically by Antiquarians, these stones are mere remnants of a more extensive monument. When I later told my 7 year old grandson, Gabriel, about this, he suggested we do some digging (literally) to find out what caveman is buried there. We decided he/she must have been important due to what the original size of the monument was estimated to have been. Perhaps Manchester University will fund sending more students to do further research one day.
Now, on to more important matters. There really is an Ice Cream Farm in Cheshire County
Oh. My. I felt about 6 years old right then. This was a real ice cream farm! The cows make the milk for the ice cream, they sell the ice cream to their visitors, and they seem to have very happy cows who (a) look forward to visitors (see shot of black and white young cow looking up at me from the barn below), (b) whisper Beatle tunes into one another’s ears (“Listen, wooowaaaeeee, let me whisper in your ear….”), (c) they like to be petted, and (d) they have skylights in the big barn giving them natural Vitamin D from the light. Even the cats like to hang out in the pen with the happy ice cream cows.
The ice cream was delish and everything was just so darn quaint and cute.
And I can’t even begin to describe the farm and the beautiful land it sits on, so I won’t even try. A picture speaks a thousand words.
From the top of Cloud Hill, there is this view of the district which includes the industrial plumes of Liverpool in the distance, and on the right side of the photo there is the humongous observatory, Jodrell Bank Observatory.
Lastly I learned one more last fascinating fact about the area. There is a Lake Rudyard. Coincidentally, it just so happens that my mother, remember she passed away just before her long-lost first cousin John, who had just driven my USA born and raised self to the overlook of this lake, happens to live in this part of England. He also happens to be the one responsible for finding me after he and his family had been looking for my mom for 65 or so years, because he just so happened to see my mom’s obituary online last year, after a two year hiatus from looking, when he was possessed by the urge to go back online one night. I had purposely written the obit with key words like her father’s name (John’s uncle) and the city of Shanghai (where she was born), just in case someone was looking for her like I had looked for them. And because I wrote my full name and the metropolitan city in the U.S. where I lived, and I had taken a random photo of a baby seal on the beach the month before, which our small town e-paper published with my name, he was then able to find my address. Doreen, his sister, wrote to me, and here I was, a year later, by a lake called Rudyard. It just so happens that my mother loved Rudyard Kipling and had several of his books and when I was young I started reading Kipling, too, and now I was accidentally at the lake where Rudyard Kipling’s parents met, which was how their son, Rudyard, was given his name. (All these years I thought he and his family were from India.) I was standing in the middle of some remote place in England, I had never heard of, in front of a lake I never knew about, thinking how it should be my mom standing here. How she would have loved it. How she loved ice cream, bears, and animals and would have been in heaven to spend a whole day at an ice cream farm eating ice cream with those animals. And maybe she’s orchestrating this whole chorus of “Happenings” from her perch here on Cloud Hill to remind us all that anything is possible “If” you believe that it can happen.
This one’s for you, Mom, wherever you are.
Onwards to France…