Cheshire Adventures & A Night at Willington Hall

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After the calamities of yesterday I am delighted to announce that today was much better, although I did spill half a cup of tea in my shoe and get attacked by a cat. In comparison to yesterday – a piece of pie!

I arrived an hour early at the University of Chester for fear of traffic confusion, and also because I’d stayed the night in a hovel and wanted to escape.

The Warrington campus was easy to find, on the outskirts of the town and near Cinnamon Brow – what a name! (Surely it’s got to be some kind of beauty product?!)

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I wandered round for a little while and admired the retro touches before meeting up with Lynne Connolly, Programme Leader in Digital Photography, and giving my Professional Development talk to students of the Digital Photography and Events Management BA(Hons).

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My talk was in the North West Media Centre, in the TV studio. It was the most excellent space. I loved it (and Andy the technical chap who set everything up for me and didn’t erase my presentation!) I felt like I could be on the set of some kind of ‘In conversation with…’ show, or perhaps Jeremy Kyle. I was all ready to bring on the lie detector results and do some pointing.

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I was impressed by the group of students who turned up (apart from the one who fell asleep) and interested to hear how the second years current module was on working with real clients, on real projects. Some first years even chose to come along to the talk, and everyone showed such brilliant enthusiasm. I was really pleased to have a lovely chatter with some of them and they gave me some great feedback.

I popped off for a late lunch meeting with fellow Shutter Hubber Lisa Howard. We did a bad thing and went to The Harvester for ‘food’. They did a bad thing and served us half-cooked disappointment on a plate. I told them I couldn’t bear to pay for it, and they understood.

I hadn’t realised that I’d be visiting the University of Chester in Warrington, so I’d booked my hotels near Chester. After last night’s stay in a noisy cupboard, I was excited to be returning tonight to my favourite Cheshire hotel, Willington Hall.

As I drove through the pitch dark night up to Willington Hall I felt a sense of relief, like arriving home when you’ve been away for too long. I was welcomed by Sue, who makes everyone feel perfectly at ease and at home, and shown to my room, my lovely, spacious, inviting room.

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I skipped down to dinner and decided to go informal with a burger in the bar. Last time, when Adam and I stayed at Willington Hall, I eavesdropped on the most intriguing conversation, between an elderly lady and man, about fruit soup and Palestine, and to my absolute delight they were sat across from me in the bar having another marvellous conversation about pensions and investments, the importance of walking sticks to aid balance in old age, and the fact that the beeping sound was not his phone – silly Peggy!

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My burger in it’s brioche bun was great, and it came with the best onion rings I have had or seen in a long while. The chips were good too. They do good chips. All good.

As I was feeling so happy and at home it seemed only right to follow that burger with a delicious rice pudding. All creamy and warm with sweet sticky fig jam.

Full to the brim I retired to my chamber to admire the proper bed and space to move. I was in room 7, funnily enough I was in room 7 the night before. What a difference a day makes!

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Room 7 at Willington Hall is spacious and clean, with soft white bedding and calmness. It has lamps, and a chandelier – all with light bulbs! There’s a suitcase stand so you don’t have to balance your case across your knees/the bath, and a big tele that you can see properly without glasses.

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There’s tea, and a teapot, and coffee, and a cafetiere, and hot chocolate, and good biscuits, and bottled water – sparkling Your Domain Name and still! There’s nothing to want for, and even if there was, the lovely team would do everything the could to get it for you.

Then there’s the mega bathroom with the shower of power and the big tub that you can lie in, with the door open, and relax.

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I slept straight through, for eight full hours, and then I only woke up because I’d set an alarm. (Yesterday it was a burglar alarm!) I went down to breakfast feeling happy and refreshed. I ate muesli with everything in it and had a nice pot of tea. Chris Isaak’s order generic Lyrica Wicked Game played gently on the radio in the background and I watched big black birds landing in and taking off from the old oak tree, through the window.

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Then I accidentally ordered Eggs Benedict, which resulted in a contented smile and an over-full tummy.

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Before I checked out I had a lovely chat with hotel manager Simon who is a fountain of wonderful knowledge and always educates me on the most interesting things. Simon was starting to prepare the Christmas decorations for the Hall (I bet it looks magical, especially when it snows!) and held up a fir cone to show me, ‘It’s from one of the oldest species of tree known on earth,’ he said engagingly. ‘They’ve found fossils of these, millions of years old. Just think, dinosaurs have brushed past these with their bums!’ My intellectually challenged response – ‘Put it down Simon, dirty!’

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On my way home I stopped off to see Natalie (She had a bad accident when she was 6. She skied off a cliff!) and she took me to the Nantwich Bookshop Cafe when I drank Rose Lemonade, climbed the tiniest, tightest staircase into the roof and got to wear Santa’s coat in his grotto whilst he wasn’t looking… look!

look at these guys Willington Hall is near Tarporely, Cheshire. The rate for a Classic room, like the one I stayed in, is £125 per night including breakfast (and their breakfasts are good, really good!)

A Night at The Swan Inn, Tarporley

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I was absolutely shattered by the time I arrived at the Swan Inn, in Tarporley. I’d been at Derby Uni delivering a Professional Development talk for Shutter Hub and critiquing some photography. It had been a very full-on day, starting with a long journey (and some Sat Nav confusion), followed by my presentation being wiped off my pen-drive, then various other technical glitches and misery.

My cunning cheer-me-up chicken kiev stop at Anna’s house was such a pleasure that I probably used up my last bit of the days energy there.

Still, it was easy to find the hotel pub pubotel, and easy to park.

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I wandered into the bar at about 9.30pm and made full eye contact with three members of staff before one asked me what I wanted. I wanted to check in. ‘Harvey?’ Yep. No airs and graces, I was asked to pay upfront. I scrabbled through my bags and produced my debit card, made the swift payment of £50 and was led to my room. My teeny, tiny room.

As a point of interest, when I’d originally booked the room I’d had a quick look on their website and then phoned to make the reservation. The lady on the phone told me it would be £75, I mentioned that it said £50 on their website and she’d responded with, ‘Well if you want it for fifty you can have it for fifty!’ Alright then. So I did. I then emailed a request in response to the booking confirmation, but received no reply. I should have seen the signs.

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I text Adam, ‘I’ve arrive at the hovel!’ I was probably being a bit harsh, or possibly not.

I’ll never trust a hotel that asks you to pay upfront, not since the ‘That’s not chocolate on the phone’s mouthpiece!’ incident of earlier this year.

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The room was tiny, cell-like and claustrophobic, but I could tolerate that, I only wanted to sleep here. That’s right I only wanted to sleep!

The big old single glazed sash window was next to my bed and facing right onto the road, over the front door of the pubotel. The catch lock was missing off the window, but there were at least some signs that the old sash was being repaired. Well, the bit of pitch pine with a Wickes label on it was a giveaway!

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There was no ceiling light, but three double-shaded wall lights. Only one of the lights had bulbs in though. The tiny TV on the wall at the foot of the bed made me think of hospitals or nursing homes. But at least there was a trouser press.

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The room was clean, with a good array of Teapigs tea, and even a Laura Ashley mug for me to drink it out of. A bit of a strange juxtaposition against the rest of the room I felt. The bathroom was also clean, compact and clean. I wasn’t keen on the claggy clagged up  jar of bath salts, or the unusual pattern in the bath (to stop me falling over, I assume).

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Often in a hotel room one might find a bible (Gideons), but here I found The Little Hunting Handbook (you know what rhymes with hunt?) and a leaflet welcoming me to ‘The Summer Swan’ and asking, ‘who could believe we are into the summer months already?’ I’ll tell you who – me. In and out.

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The pillows were synthetic, but at least they were thick and not like sweaty pancakes, and the duvet was nicely feather filled. I got into bed. I’m not used to sleeping in a single bed and I was a bit worried that I might fall out. I also felt strangely like my grandmother. She’s dead.

The bed was quite comfortable, but so narrow I feared for my safety. There was no lamp, just the afore mentioned wall light, the switch was placed on the wall in reachable distance – if you’re Mr Greedy or some kind of long armed giant (who wouldn’t have fitted in the bed anyway!) Thankfully the glow from the sign and lights outside was plenty to light my room, and the loo was literally three steps/creaks and a door away from my bedside. So I survived.

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As I tried to get to sleep I was startled by a loud noise, right next to my head. I lay still. ‘Ghost snorer?’ I thought. No. Heavy sleeping overweight warthog in adjoining room. At least someone was getting a good nights sleep. It was actually quite comforting, in a very strange way.

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I slept fairly well, until the sound of passing cars woke me up, that was sporadic though. Then, at 6.40am, a shop alarm over the road started to go off and continued to do so. Having been awake at 4-something the previous morning I was rather hoping for a bit more sleep. I hid my head under the pillow, but by 7.20am I decided I couldn’t take it any longer. It was like some kind of torture, that even when the alarm intermittently stopped it left my ears ringing.

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I went down to breakfast and helped myself to some Alpen and some pictures of the carpets. (More carpets on Instagram!)

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On my way back to my room I met the cleaning lady and congratulated her on the cleanliness of the room. She was sweet, ‘Thank you, very nice!’ she said. I liked her.

When I checked out they didn’t ask me, ‘How was your stay?’ and I don’t blame them! I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of everything I had to say, especially not so early in the morning.

I suppose I got almost 6 hours of sleep in total, and some Alpen. Considering how knackered I was, less than £10 per hour for sleep was actually quite acceptable. I would have happily paid £75 for 7 hours sleep and a smile though!

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My bedroom of ‘excellence’ was just above the front door.

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The rate for a single room at The Swan Inn, Tarporley is either  £50 or £75, depending on how they feel! Tarporley is a very nice place, and the ladies in the Post Office are lovely! 

I felt that the customer service at The Swan Inn was shocking, and my room was oppressive and unwelcoming, but I am sure they must have some nicer rooms – they look fine on their website!

Toiletries Amnesty – The Great Haul of 2014

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Ahoy there soap stashers, check out this haul!

A couple of months ago, when I was in my bathroom cupboard thinking, I considered that it might be possible to be buried in a toiletries mountain. Little did I know that it was going to become a reality!

For the past couple of months, following this idea, we’ve been gathering unwanted toiletries to donate to Winter Comfort for the homeless in Cambridge.

Earlier in the week Zoe came over so we could tackle the haul and regain some living space, and well… look what happened!

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And, this isn’t all of it!

With the help of some very lovely people we’ve managed to gather not just enough toiletries to keep Winter Comfort going for a good few months, but also two Women and Childrens Refuges in Fenland! To everyone who donated – THANK YOU! Thank you very, very much.

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Some donors asked to remain anonymous, but the rest of you, I’m not sorry to tell everyone how helpful you’ve been, starting with…

Zoe, my toiletries amnesty amigo and super collector of all things smelly (and that’s just in her own time! Boom! Boom!) Zoe has been raiding smellies stashes in Ely, Cambridge and Essex! Without her I would still be staring at random plastic bottles wondering what their purpose was. Thank you Zoe! (She also brought cake).

Aoife Maxwell, the sweet and lovely lady behind sweetpeasandsours.com She’s a Medicinal Chemist (I think that means cocktail expert!) Aoife held a brunch for Winter Comfort early in October too!

Richard and Kay Rodriguez and their colleagues at Compare the Market. My goodness you lot know how to stockpile toiletries!

Louise Stebbing, award-winning artist and linocutting legend of Skylark Studios. Louise got all her students involved, and her lovely friend Sue from Hornfield House B&B also made kind donations.

Christine Robinson, business woman and kind hearted soul.

Laura Burgess, (who is, as I type, trekking the Sahara for Macmillan!)  and her colleagues, the Youth and Family Workers, Wisbech Locality Team. You can sponsor Laura here if you are feeling generous!

Jane Brace, and her friends and colleagues at New Queen Street Surgery, Whittlesey. I’ve known Jane for half my life, she’s very kind, and always ready and willing to help me, and everyone else!

And, last but not least, Lynda Behagg, the lovely mummy of Sophie who was my best friend when I was 5 and who is often in my thoughts. They are such a generous and caring family that when Lynda offered to collect in Chatteris I wasn’t surprised – but I was surprised to see how many bags she managed to fill! (And I hear there is more to come!)

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If I have missed you off the list, I’m very sorry, and I’m still grateful, and if you’ve got some toiletries to donate, it’s not too late – get in touch. It’s good to share!

Lotus Finals Day 2014 at Snetterton

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Garrrr! I have so much to say! That car, up there, that’s John Taylor’s car, I took that picture on Saturday at the Lotus Finals day at Snetterton. I don’t use the word epic often, (and I’ve just read a Guardian article telling me that I should reserve it), but oh my goodness it was a good day!

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Alongside the Lotus Cup UK, Elise Trophy, Track Attack Autumn Trophy and awesome F1 demo, the good people at LoTRDC had arranged a special non-championship sprint.

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We had two practice laps in the morning and I was chuffed that with my first practice time of 150.7, I was already beating  my best time of 1.51.2 from earlier in the season. I do think I have improved a lot over the year, but also I have ES Motorsport to thank for doing the geometry on the car – it drove like a dream, or a new car, or a dream of a new car.

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At lunchtime lots of other Lotuses turned up for a Parade Lap, and we all went out on the track to show some Lotus solidarity, or something. One chap was trying to show-off, just a lot, and he rather annoyed me. This may have been a good thing, a bit of rage. I was on a mission. I didn’t have time to brake for corners!

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My first timed run was 1.48.7, then my second was 1.46.6 – at this point Adam was very excited, this put me in 9th position in my class, and ahead of other well-experienced drivers, drivers with more power than me! What?!!!

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That lucky streak didn’t continue, I lost the rage, (he left early). Gary tried to help me by saying he’d heard that he was on his way back with a bag of kittens and he was going to throw them off the bridge, but without a visual to focus on, the rage dispersed.  My third run was 1.46.7. Still for me, and my car, that’s chuffin’ marvellous.

At the end of all that I came 11th out of 14 in my Class, and 18th overall. At the top of the table was Stephen Morrison in Class 1, and Simon Oakley in Class 2 (that’s Simon down there, in his 2-Eleven).

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My ears are still ringing from the Formula 1 car demonstration. The sound was phenomenal. We stood at the pit wall and watched. I wanted to take a photo but it was so fast and loud.  It’s passing must have triggered my finger as I scrunched up and double braced myself (like a tortoise, you know) because I did manage to capture this glorious blur.

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At trophy time I was there to represent Dave Mann and collect his massive cup for winning the SuperSport Class of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2014, from Rupert Manwaring, the Director of Motorsport at Lotus. At first I didn’t realise what was going on, I was a little delayed in going up to get the trophy, so to show willing, for some reason unknown to any sane person, I started running on the spot. Then when I got to the podium I couldn’t work out how to get up there, so I just kept lifting my leg up like a weirdo until someone (everyone) pointed out the steps! I hadn’t seen the steps. Adam said I should have spotted other people going up the steps, but I was too busy clapping and smiling so much my eyes were closed.

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When I look at the photos it looks like Rob was definitely doing the robot dance. I would have joined in, if I’d have known at the time.

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That’s Rupert Manwaring from Lotus, on the left, then our Rob with his trophy for 2nd place in the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship, and Xavier Brooke, the winner (or King, as this article suggests!) And there’s me, feeling like an impostor, speaking in my deepest man voice, and wishing I’d printed off a photo of Dave’s face to wear as a mask.

I didn’t put Dave Mann’s hat on, as a mark of respect to him… oh, no, I lied!

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After this Rob gave me a hat, my own hat! Of course, I won’t be able to wear it (just balance it) on my over-sized head, but I am very pleased to have it. It’s a nice memento of a wonderful day and a great season. It’s a reminder of the friendships we’ve formed and the fun we’ve had.

This was truly an epic day! Seriously. I even got a mention in the programme, in the same sentence as Rob, so now I am going to pretend we are team mates and ride off his glory ha ha!

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The day was an excellent send-off for Paul Golding, expert speech heckler, comedy insult provider, and foremost, the guv’ner of LoTRDC who, having done a cracking job building the Lotus Cup and Elise Trophy here in the UK, is passing on the baton to Track Club and speeding off to concentrate on Lotus Cup Europe. (He’s keeping his mitts on the Speed Championships and Track Days though, which pleases me very much!)

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The last race of the day, the final of the 2014 Lotus Cup UK, was a two hour test of endurance. As the sun went down and the moon appeared, the cars raced into the darkness.

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It was an exciting end to a terrific day. Without wanting to bang on about it, again, I know that I am really very lucky – partly because I get to take part in something that I find so awesomely enjoyable, but mostly because of all of the wonderful people I have met, fed cakes to and made friends with, this year.

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So, at the end of an excellent season, here are my results:

9th (of 19) in the Production Class and overall 14th (of 24) Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship

13th (of 22) in the SELOC Trophy

and 4th place in the Duckham’s Trophy – Sprint, BWRDC (British Women Racing Drivers Club). I beat other women – does that make me a woman beater?

Toot toot!
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