DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 33 2018
MONDAY, AUGUST 13
It is day five of our UK/Ireland trip and I am hanging out for a coffee, in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, but nothing opens until 9 a.m. What is wrong with these people! There are nine Royal Mail vans in our street and seven ponies in the field below the tourist office. Lovely drive to Builth Wells, where we park next to the cattle yards, which are being hosed out. Vegetable soup at Strand Cafe is excellent. Then drive to Llandrindod Wells and Rhayader, over moorland, where the Army are conducting exercises.
Shop at Brecon, before returning to Hay. We check into ‘Bookend’ self catering, part of a Victorian Terrace, overlooking St Mary’s Church. It is lovely, a pleasant change from Half Moon House, where we had stayed two nights out of the intended six, before telling the owner, Tamara Gordon, we couldn’t take it any more. She refunded us 100 pounds. She said something about Australians being too fussy.
Late in the afternoon we walk along the River Wye.
Welsh spring lamb chops for dinner.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 14
Walk the old railway track along the river at Hay-on-Wye, then cross to Wyecliffe, where we say hello to a group of canoeists, as one falls in. Walk across wheat and potato fields, then climb a steep hill to Heydown. Descend through forestry and have a picnic lunch beside Clyro School. Drinks at Baskerville Arms. An old bloke at the bar, drinking Bells Scotch, has the broadest accent. Then we visit the church where Francis Kilvert preached. One of the chief reasons we decided to stay in this area is because it is so strongly associated with Kilvert, who I came to ‘know’ through ‘Kilvert’s Diary 1870-1879’. His detailed picture of life in the English and Welsh countryside in that time, is beautifully written and Kilvert comes across as an endearing chap, with a great sense of humor. It was quite moving seeing his home, Ashbrook House, which is just across from the pub, which was called ‘The Swan’ in his time. We walk back to Hay, across lovely fields. Local ales at Three Tuns hit the spot. Marie has Mortimer’s Berry Cider, which looks like Cherry Cheer. I explain Kilvert to the bar staff, who are blissfully unaware of his history. Marie and I then explore the second hand book shops, for which Hay is famous.
Mass is held at St Mary’s, with a white flag with green cross, having replaced the Welsh flag. For dinner we enjoy sirloin steak from Gibbon’s Butcher Shop.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 15
Morning tea at ‘Old Electric Shop’, then a drive into spectacular Capel-y-ffin/Black Mountains area, where we walk part of famous Offa’s Dyke path. Brisbane Broncos’ rugby league doctor, Peter Friis did the entire 177 mile walk some years back, and got sun burnt in the process. Marie has a chaffed toe from all the walking, but there is plenty of wool on the ground, so she sticks a piece in her boot – problem solved.
Pork pie for lunch, followed by drinks at Temple Bar pub, Ewyas Harold, which has a famous butcher shop across the road. Drive narrow lanes back to Hay, encountering a farmer with a load of hay. Back in Hay, we have one drink at Kilvert’s pub, which is between owners, and it shows. Move to the Black Lion, where the barman is from London, and has an Irish girl friend. He says bitter is a real beer, not like sweet, pale ale. On the wall there is a tribute to Jazz musician, Phil Moad (1948-2018).
One of the new followers of my website is former Brisbane Norths’, Gold Coast and Wakefield Trinity halfback, Geoff Bagnall.
Learn of the passing of one of our neighbors, Tony Jackman, a Bridge Master, whose daughter, Christine is one of Australia’s top journalists. Tony and his wife, Clare were always fine company at Brothers’ Leagues Club, and then the Stafford Tavern, when Brothers closed. Tony was also an esteemed member of the ‘Table of Knowledge’ at Brothers and Stafford, and was probably the most knowledgeable, having been Dux of Gregory Terrace. Tony was 79. His wake is to be held at Brothers Rugby Union. The 15 man code was his first love, but Brothers’ Leagues was right next door to where he lived. In fact, the gate from Hermitage Gardens town house estate, was called ‘The Tony Jackman Gate’ in his honor. There was even a sign saying so.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 16
The Hay-On-Wye market is not as big as we imagined. A mum and daughter argue, and then ask me the way to Brecon. A driver deliberately swerves all over the road. Interesting. Picnic lunch in the old market hall at Pembridge, one of the ‘magpie’ towns of Herefordshire. Back at Hay, we walk from the town centre, across the fields to Greenpit Farm and Oakfield.
Aretha Franklin has died, aged 76. I have one of her LPs, ‘Aretha Franklin Queen of Soul’.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 17
On the way from Hay to our next stay – Wherwell, Hampshire – we receive terrible news that Marie’s sister-in-law, Beth Donnelly has stomach cancer, and may only have five months to live. Beth is married to Marie’s brother, Kevin, and they live at Alstonville in northern New South Wales. Beth has been in St Vincent’s Hospital, Lismore for three days.
We have lunch at Gloucester Services and then a leg stretch at Devizes, Wiltshire, where I stayed in 1982, ahead of covering the Kangaroo tour of Britain. We also walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal ‘stair case’, a flight of 29 locks, which, back in ’82, was not accessible for boating, but is now back in full working order.
An RAF transport aircraft flies low as we cross Salisbury Plain.
Wherwell is a lovely village, and even the ‘chaos’ created by workmen installing Virgin NBN cables, does not take away from its beauty and charm. Our upstairs, studio accommodation is right beside the primary school, and the cricket green, where a ‘naming day’ for Blake is scheduled. The previous guests were from Siegan, Germany. Quentin is our host. He has been working in Windsor all week, for a Hong Kong based company. After a walk around the fields, beside the fast flowing River Test, we enjoy a drink at The White Horse pub. One of the patrons, a grumpy, old chap, says he lived in Papua New Guinea and the Kokoda Track was an easy walk.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 18
Stockbridge is our first destination from Wherwell, and, for Marie and I, the pretty town brings back memories of October, 1977 when we stayed a night there, after watching the Nimbin (Australia) team in action in an international tug-of-war event in Dorset. The hotel we stayed in then, (The Castle) is now a tea house. On this occasion we buy meat (veal) at John Robinson’s Butcher Shop, which has sawdust on the floor, and requires payment at a separate counter from the meat service. Old school. The old bloke who serves us, is from Coventry originally, but has worked at the shop since 1964. After Stockbridge, we have a drink at ‘George and Dragon’, Hurstbourne Tarrant, where there is a refreshment post for an ultra marathon. Previously, stage coaches travelling from Oxford to Salisbury, stopped here. Afterwards we watch cricket on the local green. Back at Wherwell, we walk across Cow Common to Chilbolton and the Abbot’s Mitre pub. The movie ‘Sound Barrier’ was filmed here. On the wall there is a tribute to US airman, Ray Duane Carlson.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 19
It is our youngest boy, Lliam’s 34th birthday.
Roast pork lunch at White Horse, followed by a lovely walk to Goodworth Clatford, via Wallis Bottom and Red Hill, along the River Anton. Walk back to Wherwell, via Hampshire Golf Club, Whitehouse and New Barn. Return to White Horse, where we have a great session with the locals, some of whom have been to a chilli festival in Winchester. Timothy Taylor ale goes down well.
Photo 1: Marie Ricketts on banks of River Wye
Photo 2: Kilvert’s house, Clyro
Photo 3: Hay-on-Wye local
Photo 4: Offa’s Dyke walk
Photo 5: Buskers at Hay-on-Wye
Photo 6: Tony Jackman (left), Dave Corbett and ‘Source’ at Brothers’ Leagues.
Photo 7: Devizes ‘stair case’
Photo 8: Wherwell
Photo 9: Butcher shop, Stockbridge
Photo 10: Ultra marathon break, Hurtsbourne Tarrant
Photo 11: Cricket, Hurtsbourne Tarrant
Photo 12: Locals at White Horse, Wherwell.