PYW - New Years Eve 2009 in Ludlow 

This year, a party of 12 from the group descended on the historic, medieval market town of Ludlow, nestled in the picturesque Shropshire countryside. Ludlow is steeped in history and Sir John Betjeman described it as ‘the most perfect town in England’ I wonder what the neighbouring Welsh thought…?! The Norman Castle dominates Ludlow and there is a plethora of shops focusing on local produce, a haven for the self-confessed foodie. But we weren’t there for the local ales and fine cheeses, we’d booked ourselves in for a 1920s’ themed New Year’s Eve party and some hill walking!
The neighbouring Clee Hills were snow covered and the River Teme surrounding the castle was ready to burst its banks. They were still reeling from the harsh winter we had experienced a few weeks before hand.
Debbie had researched well and booked us into the small, friendly Cliffe Hotel. The Proprietor Helen greeted us warmly, apologising for our 1970’s style chocolate coloured bathroom suite and advising that the heating would be on shortly. She was delighted when we informed her that we were armed with full 1920s’ regalia!
As we had arrived earlier than some of the others, Barbara and I took advantage of the remaining daylight hours to check out what the town had to offer and to determine a nice venue for dinner the following evening.
We found a suitable Italian, which was closed, several pubs and a smart Indian restaurant that we established was definitely open.
To be able to offer a comprehensive assessment to our fellow walkers, we decided to test the suitability of some of the pubs and found ourselves in the very busy Church Inn, spewing over with dirty glasses (we surmised that the glass washer had broken, not ideal on New Year’s Eve) and nursing a pint of Ludlow Gold – well it was award winning and local so we had to see if it was any good!
After an interesting conversation with a slightly inebriated local, we headed back to the hotel to don our 1920’s finery!
As fine as the Ludlow Gold was, it was felt (by me) that some Dutch courage was needed to face the forty or so people that we would be sharing our evening with so we assembled in Debbie’s ‘suite’ for wine and chocolates which I swigged from the bottle in my cream, opera-gloved hands!
Fortunately we weren’t the only people who had dressed up and the majority of the guests had made an effort. Special mention should go to Debbie for her fabulous cardboard face-mask and Pete for the most outrageous canary yellow suit which would not have been out of place on the set of “Mask”!
True to form, Stephen embraced the themed quiz with full force and diligently filled in all but one or two answers with some consultation with Jane P, who’s knowledge of history is to be applauded, whilst the rest of the group gave it a cursory glance, decided it was too hard and dismissed it in favour of a few hands of pontoon, ably croupiered by Debbie.
Unfortunately, much to Stephen’s chagrin, he wasn’t successful in winning the quiz, being pipped at the post by the party sharing our room (Stephen’s note – I came joint 1st but lost on some random winner choosing process!)
There were, however some winners amongst us, with myself taking the prize for the best fancy dress costume and Paul for accumulating over 2000 chips on the Roulette table, outstripping everyone else by several hundred (Despite our attempts at cheating by pooling chips!)
The hot and cold buffet provided something for everyone and several people took advantage of the opportunity to go back for seconds – especially for dessert! Stephen was suitably pacified!
After toasting in the New Year with my prize bubbly. Pete, our unofficial party planner, organised a game of ‘Who am I?’ This was a cause of much amusement particularly as Sarah had her husband Stephen’s name on her forehead. During questioning it transpired that he could have political aspirations, was an entertainer with a potential TV career but not very funny!!! (Stephen’s note – a view held by a minority of 1)
That concluded our evening and as we knew we had a full day of hill walking ahead of us, we left Karen & Brian burning the PYW candle for us and called it a night.

A frosty New Year’s Day dawned and we all made it down to breakfast, albeit at the latest possible sitting.
After some discussion between Jane P (our unofficial ‘weekend away walk planner’) and Stephen, we left and after a twenty minute drive arrived at Church Stretton, where we were surprised to see several groups of walkers with the same intention as ours.
Wrapped up fit for an expedition up Everest and walking poles to the fore, we set off up a steep, treacherous path towards Haddon Hill and on to Long Mynd, part of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We were soon on the snow-covered route of the local golf course. The going was quite tough due to deep snow, lack of visible tracks and a fairly steep hill. You have to remember that the majority of us live on reclaimed marshlands and fens - it doesn’t get much flatter!
Conveniently situated near the top was a handy shelter which was for the golfers caught by inclement weather. Eleven of us crammed in and the Christmas leftovers of chocolates (lots from Sarah D), cheese straws and delicious homemade mince pies were duly distributed.
Satiated, we set off again to the top where we enjoyed magnificent views from the plateau before deciding to descend down the Carding Mill Valley. We had hoped to complete a longer, circular walk but the late start and slow place meant that diminishing daylight hours dictated otherwise.
Our descent was not without event. The ice covered rocks were slippery underfoot and like a waddle of penguins we bumped our way down the hillside, taking it in turns to see how well padded our bottoms were! I think Barbara took the prize for the most falls!
Despite the perilous incline, the scenery was beautiful and the rocky path meandered alongside fast flowing streams and waterfalls, all assisted by the recent thaws.
The National Trust facilities at the bottom were a welcome sight and after a short break which included defrosting ourselves under the hand dryers, we headed back to the cars as the snow started to fall.

Bathed, rested and fully refreshed, we walked in to town to find a suitable eatery. Unfortunately the Italian restaurant that we had spotted the day before was closed and despite some of the local pubs advertising that they were open for food, they seemed to be reluctant to cater for a party of twelve. The alternative was the Indian, but a couple of people had expressed that it wasn’t their first choice so with that in mind, we made enquiries and Jane U remembered a Chinese/ Thai that she had spotted with Paul the previous day.
We peered through the window at a grubby looking takeaway and noted a ‘two-courses for ten pounds’ offer which we all thought was exceptional value and so went upstairs to a deserted, gloomy, cold room.
After much faffing from the restaurant owners, we managed to assemble a table of twelve where we were then abandoned. Due to the size of the restaurant, single-glazed, undressed windows and insufficient storage heaters, we gathered all the available candles and lit those that hadn’t previously burnt out (evidence that some customers had eaten there at some point!) and tried to create a bit of ambience. Most of us remained in our gloves, coats and scarves and we gradually broke away to sit on the radiators.
Eventually a waiter appeared with some sticky menus and some prawn crackers that tasted as though they had been cooked in year-old chip fat.
Having determined that the £10 offer was for lunch times, with a couple of exceptions we opted for the £15 set menu, assuming incorrectly that this would be easiest!
Then the wait began and we amused ourselves with a game of charades. Some time later the waiter re-appeared with our drinks and some cold side plates, which we proceeded to try and warm on the radiators and over candles. Several more games of charades ensued and eventually, three platters of deep-fried starters appeared. I drooled longingly at Karen’s sate and Brian’s soup that they had had the foresight to order from the A’la Carte menu.
That course over and quite a lot of food remaining on the plates, we eagerly awaited the mains.
True to form, this meant another long wait and more party games. We tied our tongues up in knots with fuzzy duck, confused our mathematical brains with fizz bang (not surprisingly, Jane P, an accountant, was excellent at this game and her and Barbara went on to infinity – almost) and getting warm in the group hug game which involved running around the restaurant trying to get into a group of a predetermined number (a bit like Runaround for all of you young enough to remember it!) However, patience was wearing thin and several complaints were made to the Manager who seemed indifferent to our needs despite the fact that we had advised a party who ventured up the stairs to eat in the Indian and promptly left, she suggested that we should be grateful that they were accommodating us!
Finally the next part of our meal arrived and to say that it was disappointing was an understatement. The quality and quantity was insufficient for the time passed and no apology was made. Yet again those that had ordered independently from the set menu seemed to have a much higher standard of food so a small percentage of us were happy.
The general consensus of opinion was that we had not received value for money and I once again went down to speak to the Manager who didn’t think that a two hour wait with no communication, in a freezing, dingy restaurant to be served substandard food warranted a complaint, let alone any form of discount. We clearly felt otherwise and paid what we felt to be appropriate. I offered a generous £10 and others paid for the food but not the drinks. We walked out to a tirade of abuse and threats to call the police and carried on to the haven of the Church Inn where mulled wine and, much to the amusement of the locals, a game of Who am I?, followed. I got some strange looks from in-coming customers as I faced the door with my Loch Ness Monster sticker firmly displayed on my forehead and Barbara as Doctor Who was bemused by our taunts of ‘Who are you?!’ All in all it turned out to be a very interesting evening and one we will talk about for some time!

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we loaded our cars and decided that a local, morning walk was the order of the day as several of us wanted to take time to explore the town in daylight before setting off home in the early afternoon.
Jane P ably led us on a 5 mile jaunt around the still frozen tracks west of the town and Stephen merrily stomped his way through every frozen puddle until we caught on and got there before him!
The walk culminated at Whitcliffe Common, with postcard views of the town and castle before descending the donkey steps, so called as donkeys had pulled iron ore filled carts along these tracks many years before, and finally on to the bread walk surrounding the river. The story goes that workers in Ludlow were paid in bread for their toils so that their wives and children could eat rather than the money being spent in the local taverns!

And there endeth another PYW trip away. We all agreed that Shropshire was a beautiful county and needed further exploration, maybe even a return visit to Ludlow.
I think we’ll give the Chinese a miss next time though!!

Kirsty Flatt.