After our last disastrous attempt to go on holiday, we planned the next one very carefully. We booked an annex in a 15th century farmhouse in rural Herefordshire, one of the last few un-spoilt areas of England. It is just a county away from us, so not too far on the bike and the weather was set fair. Our landlady was lovely and so was the cottage. A mediaeval traditionally built timber frame with original cruck frame construction inside, dating back to the early 1400's and far older than our little 240 year old stone Cotswold home. Unfortunately it was also on the edge of a busy road, with a constant stream of heavy traffic which barely stopped except for a few hours at night. It was a bit of a change from our own peaceful little lane. However, we had lots of outings planned, Andy had almost every detailed map of the county and had Googled the backside out of Herefordshire, so walks and little trips to historic towns would keep us busy. Neither of us had been here before and walking round the village we were charmed by the plethora of historic timber framed houses, part of the famous Black and White Trail.
For Phil Rickman fans, this is Merrily Watkins territory, the mysterious, shadowy Borderlands between England and Wales. He is one of my favourite writers, so this was a bit of a pilgrimage for me.
On our first full day last Sunday, we biked over to the pretty village of Lingen to do a big circular walk through woods and fields. It was about then that we began to fall in love with the Herefordshire countryside; I felt distinctly unfaithful to my beloved Cotswolds. Not only is it stuffed with interesting and beautiful buildings -
- but it is plumply cushioned with trees - even more than we have and most of them deciduous; nice mixed native woodlands hummocking the gentle swells of the landscape. It was a last echo of summer and we happily strolled for about six miles, noticing the differences in flora and fauna, soaking up the warm autumnal sunshine. We stopped to share a pork pie and watch a Red Kite hunting over the ploughed fields. It had been, we hardly dared say it, the most perfect of days, full of interest and pleasantness. Life seemed very sweet indeed and we were destined to have a wonderful holiday. Oh hubris! Oh fickle Gods!We were about half a mile from Lingen, where the bike was parked, coming along a woodland path, Andy ahead as usual, with me pottering behind. Then I came across what was to be my final hurdle. Instead of the usual stile with handy stepover, there was a cobbled together construction consisting of a wooden fence panel and a resty metal gate, the only way past being to climb over precariously or squeeze round the tiny gap at the edge. Not wishing to turn one of my ankles as I'm prone to do, I began climbing the slim posted hurdle. At some point gravity and I had a disagreement because somehow I found myself falling backwards, landing directly onto my shoulder and slamming my right arm - my working arm - into the hard earth. I screamed twice, loudly. Poor Andy came running up the track, white and frightened. I almost fainted from the sheer agony of trying to sit up, but we eventually managed it and he called 999 for an ambulance. At this point, even though I was practically vomiting from the pain of every step forward, I was determined to get on the back of the bike to be taken to hospital, a barmy idea I quickly gave up as I stumbled along the last of the footpath, cradling my useless arm. Andy ran ahead to Lingen, coming across the dispersing congregation of the Methodist chapel, who had just finished their Harvest service. A nice man with a soft Welsh accent drove his Landrover up and drove me back to Lingen, to the pub. Soon I seemed to be the centre of attention, with concerned villagers cooing over me. The local nurse arrived to look after me until the ambulance arrived. I have never in my life come across such collective kindness. To cut a long and sorry saga short, I was whisked to the county hospital, (looked after by super ambulance medics) where eventually a fracture of my right shoulder area was diagnosed. As it was impossible for me to ride pillion on the bike we had to stay overnight in a city motel and the next day, after a proper sling was fitted, I somehow managed to get painfully back to our holiday cottage via country bus and taxi. With no other transport than the motorbike, I was confined to a couple of short village walks for the rest of the week, feeling terrible at ruining our holiday with my clumsiness. Andy's parents heroically drove down from the North to take me back to the Cotswolds by car at the end of our stay, which was wonderful. Thank you again - I know you read this sometimes. Ten days on, my right arm is healing but useless. I am sleeping upright on our saggy sofa, as lying down is too painful. I can't work at anything and can barely lift a can of beans - needless to say I am bored and grouchy as hell and going loopy with inactivity. I wish I could be more graceful about it, but I am afraid I make a very bad invalid. However the memory of the good will of the people of Lingen village is the shining bright light in the gloom and I've even managed to stay in contact. High on gas and oxygen, I shoved a Moo card in the nurse's hand before the ambulance took me away and have been able to update her and thank everyone. It was lovely to know that my recovery was toasted at the pub that evening, the Royal George and Andy has written to the Lingen village website, where his email has been posted on the front page. We have rather fallen in love with the area - and next year we will return.
(Typed with one hand and a pain killer).