A rather dull and drizzly Monday morning was not going to deter an excited group of 52 of Audlem's finest Probus members and their guests as they set off for a week of exploration and jollification. Those of us who have been on one of these annual holidays before were glad to see the Happy Days (Leons) coach in the care of our favourite driver, Andy, who we know can be relied upon to give us the best trip possible.
We were heading for the best part of a week in the Cotswold area, staying in Swindon. Now you may think that Swindon would not be your first choice of holiday destination, but in fact the research and planning department (otherwise known as our beloved leaders Jan and John Evans) had previously found that Swindon was an ideal centre for the Cotswold area and also Bath and Bristol, both of which were on our itinerary.
We had a leisurely drive down, avoiding motorways where possible, and were well and truly put in the holiday mood with a delightful lunchtime stop in Broadway. By now the rain had stopped so we all enjoyed a stroll along this picturesque main street and our own independent choices of eateries for lunch. The route from here onwards was truly enjoyable through this glorious part of the world and we were impressed to arrive at our hotel for the next five nights, a modern, spacious, low-rise building set in large grounds.
Tuesday morning saw us depart the hotel in the rain for our drive to gothic Tyntesfield House, a National Trust house and gardens near Bristol. This is an exceptionally interesting and beautiful house and was enjoyed by all. There were guides in most of the rooms to give us a bit more information and there were many highlights, including the private chapel and the heated snooker table and very early version of electric scoring. The cow barn was a wonderful area with the usual shop but also very good for coffee early on and lunch afterwards. Everyone did their own thing and it was good to exchange stories back on the coach. Our route back to the hotel from here in Somerset was most enjoyable.
Wednesday was to be our day in Bath and challenged us all to find the best things to do on a really wet day. Obvious choices were the Abbey, Roman Baths, etc. and several took advantage of a tour on one of the hop-on-hop-off buses, although the open-top feature proved a step too far!! Although everyone enjoyed their day, there is nothing like the promise of a visit to a brewery to further cheer a Probus member! And so, thanks to our beloved leaders' forward planning, it was thus, as we were taken to Wadsworth Brewery in Devizes where we were all interested in a talk by a very good speaker who told us something of the history of the products and current brews. Our return to the hotel was further enhanced by a slow drive past the standing stones at Avebury. There must be something about Probus and standing stones, as our previous wettest day ever was at Stonehenge!!
We set out on Thursday in glorious sunshine!!! In fact, if we wanted a sunny day, this was it as we were on our way to visit Hidcote Gardens via picturesque Cotswold towns and villages. This was a gardener's perfect day out, from the moment we arrived to see the wisteria at its best in the courtyard and then endless views of landscaped gardens, historic trees, water features, thatched rooves, sweeping lawns, etc. etc. There was a most attractive shop area with café and plant sales. Our driver, Andy, had said there was plenty of room for plant purchases, but he drew the line at sheds and mowers!! Hidcote is famous for its lavender and although it was a little early in the season for it to be in full bloom, several people purchased a plant or two to take home. Just when we thought the day couldn't get any better we were driven onwards to Bibury, just about the most picturesque village anywhere. The short walks on offer along the river and to the famous Alms houses were unmissable, complete with sightings of fluffy cygnets and a black swan. Just magical.
Our last full day was to Bristol where we arrived at the docks to visit Brunel's SS Great Britain. We were all impressed by the presentation of the ship, museum, and general dock area, all substantially funded by the Lottery Heritage Fund. After a most interesting walk round the ship there was plenty of time for coffee or lunch before boarding our glass-roofed boat for a private one-hour dock tour in brilliant sunshine. Our captain/guide was full of most interesting information, which brought the whole place to life. Our return route to the hotel was again carefully planned to take us through attractive Wiltshire towns and villages.
Our last evening was something of a celebration of a superb week and our new President Norman Bourne was in the chair (great joke, Norman). We had an excellent last supper and although all the ball gowns and tiaras were in evidence, no-one had taken up the offer of dress code to be what one was wearing when the fire alarm went off at 7 a.m. that morning!! Norman thanked everyone who had contributed to the success of the holiday, namely the aforementioned Andy who had done a sterling job all week, the hotel staff who had battled successfully through a few Fawlty Towers moments, but most of all our leaders, Jan and John Evans who had planned, organised and supervised everything. One can only imagine how much work goes on ahead of these holidays, although they do assure us that they enjoy it all!!! Thanks again.
Our trip home the next day was made more interesting by the pleasant route chosen and a couple of hours spent in Stratford-upon-Avon at lunchtime before arriving back in Audlem in time to create havoc again unloading the bus and making sure everyone had a lift home.
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