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March, 2015

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My husband having gone on a ‘roughing it, back-packing’ trip to Colombia. I invited a longstanding friend to stay with me at my home in Stafford for four days. Her outlook is always ‘if I’m on holiday, you are too’. She arrived the evening before my husband’s departure which enabled our first day to begin the moment I returned from taking him to the airport. Our plan for Day 1 was to go into Stafford and check out the theatre options. Parking options are plentiful and Stafford is an easy town to walk round, small but with everything you need. The main street is pedestrianised, level and uncrowded. By chance that evening the theatre was showing a National Theatre Live Screening from the Young Vic. Viewing a live screening would be a new experience for both of us and the production appealed. Seats were still readily available so we opted not to book immediately just in case my very early airport trip meant I was too tired later. We treated ourselves to coffee and scones in the theatre cafe before heading home for a lazy ‘catch up’ session. As I had vouchers that expired that day for our local Two-for-One eatery we decided on an early pre-theatre meal at the Chetwynd Arms, a pub restaurant about 15 minutes drive from Stafford. No meal vouchers to influence you? The Chetwynd Arms is a Two-for-One pub that is excellent and my daughter, once visiting from Southern Ireland, and a Coeliac said it offered the best Gluten free range she had come across. Stafford, and the surrounding area, has many other alternatives for eating out with all tastes and budgets catered for.

Our theatre experience was lovely. I parked about 10 minutes walk away but when we first moved here a taxi driver told us they rated Stafford as one of the safest places in the country. After the screening we walked back to the car and did not feel at all threatened. It was home for a warm drink and bed. Not a theatre lover? Stafford offers a cinema and a night club plus plenty of dining out.

We started Day 2 in a leisurely manner before heading off late morning to take the Eccleshall Road out of town. We incorporated a brief visit to a family member in a care home very close to our chosen ‘visit of the day’. Whilst still within the urban area of Stafford there is a brown tourist sign to the left to ‘Doxey Marshes.’ This is a nature reserve and home to water fowl. Although it is close to the M6 and to the main railway line it is an area of beauty and tranquility and the traffic noise soon subsides. There was ample car parking and we donned walking boots (desirable but not essential) and set off following designated paths. The route is what I think of as lollipop shaped as it incorporates a loop with an elongated there-and-back section. There are some ‘hides’ along the way for peaceful bird-watching. Binoculars would have been a bonus but we’d not thought to take them. The walking is flat and was muddy in places but not too strenuous but it is the walking on our four day ‘staycation’ that has made me rate this review ‘4’ in its suitability for ‘silver’ folk. We took about 2 hours to cover the route and there are short opportunities to deviate and take longer. Having worked up an appetite we needed lunch! Back into Stafford and out towards home, on the A34 is the Radford Bank Carvery. It is canalside, though being March and windy we ate a late lunch inside. We were very satisfied with our meal and the choice of vegetables was lovely. We took advantage of a two-course deal so indulged in pudding. By the end of our meal it was mid-afternoon so we headed home for some home-made entertainment and only needed an indulgent snack of cheese, biscuits, fruit and a glass of wine later in the evening.

Our third day was not actually spent in Stafford! Just half an hour’s drive away is the little city of Lichfield, a place neither of us had really explored. There is a direct bus but as the route takes in several villages it is a journey of an hour and a half according to the timetable I ‘Googled’. We drove! We parked all day very close to the cathedral for £5.50. This expired at 6.00 p.m. but then one could buy a further ticket for £2 to cover the evening and overnight. Directly opposite our chosen car park was the Erasmus Darwin Museum. Erasmus was the grandfather of Charles Darwin and an amazing person in his own right. The museum was very interesting and included some ‘hands on’ scientific stuff which might make it an interesting place to take grandchildren. We enjoyed ourselves even without youngsters to entertain. We asked a staff member about eating places and although she recommended a couple she assured us we would be spoilt for choice anywhere in the city. We opted for a small independent cafe on a road that went from the Cathedral towards the city centre and we were well satisfied with our choice. Although I am writing ‘city’, Lichfield is very small – but small is beautiful, and in this instance easy to explore.

After our lunch we wandered through the market and then into St Mary’s church, which houses another museum. This concentrated on the history of Lichfield but as the history is a very chequered one, and as so many famous people are associated with the place, it was a very fascinating interlude in our day. There was also a beautiful display of about a dozen tapestries depicting Lichfield, which if I recall correctly were done for the Millenium. From the museum we again ‘wandered’ and came upon a craft fair in the Guildhall – another fine building and although we were not tempted by any of the very fine crafts we did indulge in an afternoon cuppa and shared a slice of cake. Lunch had been very satisfying but we had not had a sweet. From here we chose to visit one or two charity shops before heading back to the cathedral with a small deviation into a lovely park. It was our intention to end our visit with ‘the choral Evensong’ which started at 5.30 p.m. We recalled however that the car parking expired at 6.00 p.m. and no doubt any ticket purchased before that time would finish then, requiring one to purchase a second one. We did not wish to creep out of the service to renew our ticket but at this point we had plenty of time to visit in a ‘tourist’ way the cathedral and we hoped to ask someone what was the best parking-plan. On entering the cathedral we were thrilled to find that later that evening there was a concert planned and the musicians were practicing. We sat for a while and enjoyed this musical bonus. Once they had finished we still had plenty of time to take in the beauty and history of the building before needing to decide about parking. As we walked around we found our helpful person, who turned out to be a verger. He invited us to move from the car park to within the cathedral grounds, an area usually reserved for those connected to the cathedral or school. He promised us we would not receive a ticket and so we ended our Lichfield trip by participating in the very lovely Evensong service. We made the car journey home before it became totally dark and again had an evening of home-made entertainment.

Our last full day was a Sunday. We opted for a lazy morning but set off eventually to Shugborough Hall, just fifteen minutes drive away. This is run jointly by the local council and the National Trust and as well as being the former home of Patrick Lichfield and a wonderful building, there are the servants quarters to explore, a farm, craft areas and extensive grounds with several follies. Our plan was to don the walking boots again and concentrate on the main house and the gardens. On arrival, we discovered that the Stafford Military Wives Choir was giving two half-hour performances that day with the first due to start shortly. We decided to stay and listen and were so glad we did. They gave a wonderful and quite moving performance which we felt was a real bonus. We toured the house and were pleased to discover that although we had both visited some years previously the private apartments of Patrick Lichfield were now open for visitors so there were areas new to us. Whilst in there the heavens opened and such was the force of the wind and the rain some of the grounds were shut because of falling branches. Walking in the grounds was no longer much of an option. Time for tea and cake in the cafe whilst we rehashed the plans. We decided to visit the servants rooms and these,too, were extensive and delightful, with ‘actors’ in some rooms very convincingly depicting the servants and regaling us with tales of the life and times. We were so engrossed we were amazed to find when we did look at a watch it was very nearly closing time. It had proved a visit that was worth every penny of the entry fee. Time to go home and refresh ourselves. We opted to make our main meal of the day a Sunday roast at one of the two Wetherspoon’s in Stafford and chose the Picture House. The setting here is a wonderfully opulent old cinema and my friend just loved it. As the meal was also to our liking and the staff were attentive and helpful we made a decision at this point that next day, being the end of this ‘staycation’, and the journey times for my friend meant mealtimes would be unconventional, we would return to this venue for a cooked breakfast to set her up for the journey! And this we did.

Four and a half days in my home town of Stafford, with a few extras, and I too felt as if I had had a real holiday! Now, I have just one week on my own and my daughter and two grandaughters arrive for a few days.


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