The Last Bus (Actually Hyundai) to Woodstock.

Today was an awesome day, as was yesterday.  Yesterday we spent our time driving through the dales of County Northumberland and County Durham.  The villages were friendly and quaint and the feel of all of them was inviting and warm.

Intially we set sail west along the Tyne Valley towards a small Roman town by the name of Corbridge.  We had stopped there for a short time last year but this time we made sure to soak up more of what it had to offer.  We parked in the market town square upon arrival and then promptly asked a local where to get the best breakfast in town.

We soon arrived at the recommended place and stepped into a warm welcome from the owner and a table on the second floor that was clearly a reclaimed attic space with new skylights that let the sunshine flood in.  We ordered and then waited restfully with our tea and coffee.  Breakfast followed soon after and Deanna’s avocado and poached eggs looked almost as good as my full English with all the bits and pieces except black pudding.  That was a bit of a let down I must admit, but on the upside my body will get a slight reprieve from sausage made of 95% blood on one day of this journey.

After breakfast we took to the paths of Corbridge and saw as much as possible.  Antique stores, kitchen shops and many pit stops to gaze into the windows of estate agents.  After an hour or so which included finding a three storey micro brew pub in a castle keep (as you do), we headed back to the car and set the GPS for Durham County and those beautiful but relatively unknown Dales.

We drove through undulating sheep farming pastures and then began to gain altitude at a rapid pace.  Once reaching the top of the now heather dotted hills we could see the village of Stanhope down in the distant valley.  As you arrive in Stanhope you are overwhelmed by the stone cottages and manicured village green.  We parked at the Dales visitor center and wandered as we had in Corbridge just less than an hour prior.  We spoke to locals and peered in more shop windows.  We wandered down to the railway line to find a perfect period railway station complete with many historic engines and passenger cars along the station track.  For several fair weather months of the year the Stanhope Railway Station plays host to a steam engine experience that takes passengers through several villages along the line all accomplished by the the hundreds of volunteers that love what they do.  I noticed on the bulletin board that they were looking for volunteer engineers and guards to undertake training this spring to augment their numbers.  So if you ever wanted to drive a steam train through picturesque British countryside, then Stanhope is the place for you.

As we had time I took a minute to pop into the local police station.  I met PC Mike and asked him about local crime and what it was like to police the area.  Mike took me by serious surprise when he said that Stanhope on average reports 3-5 crimes per month.  That could include theft of lawn ornaments or neighbor disputes over who was going to plow the snow on a shared driveway.

PC Mike went on to say that many of the neighboring villages report no crimes in a calendar month.  I suppose there is two ways to rationalize these incredible statistics .  Number one of course, is that this is an incredibly safe area with pleasant folk and glorious scenery.  The second maybe that Stanhope is a Northern English version of Sanford Gloucestershire , who some may recall if they have ever seen the movie Hot Fuzz as being the village of the the year countless times running.  All that to say maybe Stanhope has a very serious crime rate but PC Mike and his ever vigilant “NWA” (neighbourhood watch alliance) elliminate the offenders and bury them in the dungeon of the 15th century village church.  I hope for the latter. That would be cool!  The bloody hoodies and that bastard human statue were conspicuously nowhere to be seen during our visit.

From Stanhope we drove the Valley both east and west.  Woolisham was the standout village along the way in my view.  Woolisham had it all.  It was a quinticential English village with all the bits and pieces required for what you think of when you think real ale on the green as you take in a Saturday afternoon’s cricket match.

Woolisham gave way to Barnard Castle and its wonderful independant boarding school and large market town.  Deanna took the opportunity to tour the grounds with a staff member while I caught up on my nap time with half an hour in the car.

Deanna returned impressed and I felt like a million pounds.  We drove on to Rugby in the midlands and the same again.  Deanna met with staff at Rugby School (where the game was invented) and then we toured about town.

Time was ticking and our final destination for today was Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire.  We are staying at the Crowne Plaza stately home resort and it will be our home base for the next three days.  We checked in and I was once again fawned over by the manager due to our customer loyalty status (thanks again IHG).  Our room was lovely but we got ourselves quickly squared away and ready for the off to Woodstock and its medieval streets, shops, pubs and churches.  My top tip if you like beer and by beer I mean real ale, is always look for a pub with a CAMRA sticker in the window.  CAMRA or Campaign for Real Ale is an organization that endorses pubs that tend not to stock mass produced beers and therefore promotes local breweries.  It must be said that I rarely watch TV cop shows but there is one exception.  Although Inspector Morse has been out of production for well over 10 years, it is with no doubt that it is my favourite series hands down.  The location for every mystery is set in the area in which we find ourselves now.  The program is based on the novels of author Colin Dexter and his stories of how Inspector Endeavor Morse and his trusty sidekick take on the most challenging murder investigations in Oxford, it’s university and the surrounding countryside.  The title of today’s blog may be borrowed from one of Mr. Dexter’s best books in my humble opinion.  Now I should get back to our day.  We drove our Hyundai i40 to the Boat Inn in Thrupp, which is a lovely canal side pub just north of Woodstock.  Dinner was delicious and the pub is adorned with loads of Inspector Morse memorabilia because this pub was quite famously used as a set in one of the early series.

A little later we chose the Black Prince for half a pint and it was exceptional. We finished our drink and wandered the streets of Woodstock in awe.  The bell ringers we’re practicing in the local parish church and the restaurants were teaming with trade.

I love it here!  I really do!

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