Day 2: Close Encounters with Prehistoric Giants in Ellesmere

And here he is – Richard Maddox, the ancestor from Myddle, responsible for the unfortunate revelation that my hubby is very likely some kind of a distant cousin, and – my – he’s huge! He’s carrying a great barn (1) on his vast Herculean back.

He’s more giant than the humungous-dwarf oxymoron in Marvel’s ‘Infinity War’ film. Where’s hubby? Why isn’t he here to meet our lots-of-greats shared ancestor in the flesh? Surely he hasn’t gone to make a coffee at such a significant moment …

Oh.

My sleep-time imagination is rudely interrupted by the sound of a mug of coffee descending upon my neighbour. The bedside cabinet – in the, fit-for-a-Marvel-sized giant, bedroom – clonks appreciatively. Reclaimed or not, the ancient tree (so rudely pulled away from it’s roots to make way for a stone quarry) is in desperate need of a feed.

 

The Lodge, The Red Lion Inn, Myddle, Shropshire

Reality slowly kicks in. And I have the fleeting realisation that the sloping beams of this converted attic-room would not blocks off the heads and chins of all the Marvel comic heroes. But more pressing concerns take over, as I recall that, in spite of being up until 2am, I never did get a hit on Ancestry.com, to connect hubby’s (or even my) family tree, up with Richard Maddox, founder of The Red Lion. Still, there’s time yet. I take a quick slurp of Tesco Value coffee, the taste of which is reminiscent of morning-run-inducing crushed Bran Flakes, and make a lunge towards the carpet (it’s a long way down) for my laptop.

It’s still showing my previous search for Maddox and Myddle – this is exciting – I can carry on from where I left off!

“Are you looking up what there is for the kids in Ellesmere?”

“Err … I was just …”

“Only, I’ve told Sprog 2 (2), we’ll be going there today! Are there any birds to keep him happy?”

“Eh? He’s a bit young to be interested in birds isn’t he? Thought he hated the opposite sex!”

“What? You’re on Ancestry.com aren’t you? Look up Ellesmere! Is it good for bird-spotting?”

It’s hopeless. With such demands on my time, I say goodbye, for now, to Ancestry.com – the love of my life. And, I resign myself to the birds of Ellesmere. We’re in luck. There’s a lake called The Mere renowned the world over for it’s wild fowl, in that very location. And, more importantly, I also happen to know that there are sure to be plenty of graveyards to dig through en route.

I realise that the night-time tapping on the window panes denoted ongoing down pourings of rain, rather than Richard Maddox’s, or Great Auntie Cool’s skeletal knuckles, so I force myself out of bed,
dispose of the side-effects of drinking bran-flake coffee, and don my most attractive daywear – bright turquoise raincoat, tomato-red jeans, and orange-laced walking boots.

“We’re not going out with you in that!” declares Sprogg 3.

“You are right. You are not going out in this. These are my clothes and I’m wearing them! Find your own!”

A couple of hours and five minutes later, Sprog 2, spurred on by thoughts of birds of prey, joins the rest of us in our Dacia Sandero Stepway.

“You can’t blame me that it’s nearly lunch-time!” he exclaims. “Today, I was two minutes and five seconds faster than yesterday, so we’d better not be too late to spot something interesting!”

And we prepare for take off, with the Sandero (do not be talked into buying of these by a smooth, slick salesman) spitting, spluttering and stalling it’s protests all the way along the A528, giving itself over to a smooth ride only when we take the turning left into Ellesmere, and I glide expertly into a mud-bath.

Arriving at Ellesmere on a wet day!

Never mind Trump’s fake news – this is fake labelling. There is no way that this can possibly be the car park! With three leaps, we each land at our respective squidgy destinations with a few Peppa Pig-style squelches. Sprog 3?

It’s still chucking it down, three of us are standing around getting drenched, and Sprog 3 is still in the Sandero.

“I haven’t got any socks!”

“Surely, you noticed that before you put your trainers on?”

“I haven’t got my trainers on!”

“What? You sat in the car, waiting for Sprog 2, for an eternity, complaining about Sprog 2 for an eternity – and you didn’t even think to put your own feet into gear?”

Four crazies (one looking like a bad experiment from the Chelsea Flower Show, one sockless and whining about uncomfortable trainers, and two trailing behind keeping their safe distance) doggy paddle their way out of the mud bath.

Hubby Cool and Sprog 2

“Hold on, son! Let the ladies go ahead!”

The Mandarin Duck, posing as the author Jay Cool
“But, dad, dad, dad! Look, look, LOOK! I think I’ve just spotted a Mandarin Duck! Look at those colours! It is a duck, isn’t it? Dad!?”
Jay Cool, dressed for action

“Er, yes son. Yes, you could be right. It certainly is SOMETHING quite rare!”

We shake ourselves down and, all kitted out with binoculars, we head for one of Ellesmere’s many hotspots: The Mere. Google informs me that this beautiful lake attracts 240,000 visitors a year. I take in the view and soon cotton onto the fact that the visitors are mere seasonal travellers, flocks of migrating predators, departing no-sooner than landing, due to the scarcity of humanoid-shaped titbits.

Being wetter-than-wet at The Mere, Ellesmere

“This is boring!” complains Sprog2. “My trainers are hurting me! Can we go back to the car?”

“Mum, mum, mum!” interjects Sprog 3, right on cue (saving my small brain from having to come up with a witty response). Is that a bird of prey? Look, look, look! Here, grab my bag, so I can hold the binoculars properly!”

Hurt haven’t-gone-anywhere-yet feet. Unidentifiable flying objects. Exotic duck turned bag lady.

One of the locals, inspecting an alien invader

Shacks huddled together for warmth. And more rain.

A bird’s bottom at Ellesmere

A beautiful lake: dark, dreary and dismal – almost spookier than the graveyards I frequent.

Residents of The Mere, Ellesmere


A walk-out-as-far-as-you-like plank for getting up close with our fishy ancestors (3).

‘Walk the plank’ activity at Ellesmere

Hope in the distance. Is that The Boathouse?  The one-and-only Tourist Information Centre, and Café in Ellesmere.

The Boathouse, by The Mere, Ellesemere

“Coffee?”

“But, mum, mum! That’s selfish. I want to look at the birds …. Hey, is that a bird of prey overhead. Look, look …. It’s swooping down at us. Dad, dad, dad! Can birds of prey attack humans?”

“Only if it’s a prehistoric Argentavis swooping in from Argentina, looking for an all-in-one snack!”

And, with than, Sprog 2 takes off and runs for cover.

By the time the rest of us step over the threshold, Sprog 2’s already settled himself at a table, and has resumed bird-watching – in safety.

I utter a ‘Thank you!’ prayer to God, in the hope that he passes the message on to the inventors of glass, central heating and coffee. And I make a mental note to Google these dudes, just in case one, or all, just happen have ancestral connections with the Cools. Who needs to appeal to the Middle Man, when the lines of communication are all right here – within our DNA?

Although undoubtedly attractive, the Boathouse cakes are priced beyond the budgets of us simple folk, so we fob the Sprogs off with crisps. But, the coffee’s adequate in a needs-a-lot-more sugar-to-make-it palatable kind of a way, and in the time it takes us to drip-feed it down, the rain slows down to a spit. Replenished, we rev ourselves up and venture back over the threshold to the lands beyond.

Gathering up speed, we make our way along The Promenade towards the town centre (it’s a town?).

Sprog 3 is now gassing on about the certainty of there being a Game shop in Ellesmere – all towns have them! And Sprog 3 is on the lookout for an affordable snack. I begin to see the way ahead – an opportunity to be free of my shackles

“You three run ahead to the shops, and I’ll catch you up when I’ve taken a few more pics of the views (checked out that graveyard over there)!

 

Hubby has other ideas. Seems that the purpose of this trip was to walk the circumference of The Mere. But I know what Hubby’s view of “It’s not a long walk!” really translates into. And, I also know that he’s picked up a leaflet about the ‘Tree Trail’. Bad news. Hubby’s as obsessed with the various species of trees, as Sprog 2 is about birds and Nintendo games. My favourite tree is Enid Blyton’s faraway tree, which I’m sure was not inspired by the ‘Fagus sylvatica’ species, which supposedly graces The banks of The Mere with its medicinal properties. So I decide that Hubby can go and hunt out his own leaves, and that Sprog 3 can capture his own grey herons. The pair of them can boil up their own swelling-reducing poultices and wild fowl pastries.

“Great. You two can take a walk around The Mere, and I’ll meet you over there – at that graveyard. Sprog 3? You have a choice. Either be dad’s photographer or mine!”

There’s no choice to be made. Sprog 3, a non-vegetable eating vegetarian, hates all things deceased. Sore feet abandoned, the limp becomes a trot and accelerates into a sprint, as she takes off after the ‘lads’!

Alone at last. Time for some grave-digging. And I’m not disappointed.

Look at the gravestones – not the elegant townhouses!
Pulling back tendrils of ivy and other all-consuming predators, I reveal a number of familiar surnames. Cool, Cool, Cool and Cool.
This is Shropshire. The land of my ancestors. My genes are all around me and within me.
This whole place is crazy.
Snapping away, I slip back into the past. Arriving in the 1700s, with Motorola in hand, is like being Doctor Who assisted by a miniature Tardis.
I launch into song: ‘Love is all around me; I feel it in my bones ….’
I really am in my element. I’m at home.
“Mum, it’s time to go. We’ve been round The Mere! This place is creepy … Dad’s waiting. My feet hurt. Come on! We’re going  ….
… to the shops.”
“But ..”
“Come on, Mum! NOW!”
Left with no option, but to follow, my Motorola waves goodbye to my extended family and allow Sprog 3 to lead the way.
 
No Game shop.
A closed chemist.
An abandoned charity shop.
Tesco?
Besides the obvious attraction of snacks, Tesco reveals that it’s not just a pretty face. Never judge a book by its cover. Running alongside the monster that has taken over the world, is the once-named Ellesmere Canal, now known as Llangollen Canal.
A more attractive building than Tesco!
We conjure up some ancient pack horses, and drag the Sprogs along the tow path.
Llangollen Canal, courtesy of Sprog 3
I blend in with the brightly-painted barges that adorn the Llangollen.
A Cool half-dozen legs! The absent two legs are acting as a camera stand!
Sprog 3 is still claiming an empty stomach and has developed another limp. We pause to admire a boat with a chalk-board offering of coffee or tea for a pound a piece. Drawn in, we enjoy a chat with the boat-dweller, who takes in my attire and assumes we are fellow canal travellers. I take the opportunity to chat about the line of my family tree which has revealed my barge-owning ancestors, the ones I now blame for my wandering nomad genes.
A blue houseboat that doesn’t go anywhere at any speed (much like my Dacia Sandero!)
But no-one’s listening to me.
Why ever not?
Not content with the two pounds we’ve parted company with for our coffees, our friendly salesman (probably a has-been DFS worker) is discussing the relative merits of the selection of meringues he has on offer. Some pricey beetle-blood and egg-white meringues are selected, and I have to dig deeper into my holiday funds.
A dinosaur egg posing as a meringue!
Why didn’t we just buy the millionaire cakes at The Boathouse? Still, at least the Sprogs with beetle-blood smears all over faces, clothes and hands, now look as native as I do.
The walk along the banks of the Llangollen is all very beautiful, and we stop on a bridge to take a few snaps. But, somehow, much to the family’s disgust, I find myself doing a detour. Across the bridge is a footpath leading to the premises of a boating club. And, without warning, I am transported into a shop, where I peruse through books about barge life.
“Do NOT buy another book, Mum! The ceilings at our house are already collapsing under the weight!”
The book in hand has a hefty price tag, and an image of the house of horror in Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ comes to mind or, rather, escapes from my mind as it crashes through it’s foundations into underground caverns, before being swallowed up whole by the gates of hell. I put the book back – can probably get a one-penny-pre-loved version on Amazon!
Looping back down the other side of the canal, we re-emerge at the entrance to Tesco. It has some very-tempting books about the history of Shropshire in the entrance foyer. But, I resist.
Resistance is made easier by the lure of exotic spices, coriander and cumin, wafts of which lure us all into a wonderful restaurant called ‘Asian Spice’. The great thing about living in Britain, is that, wherever one goes, one can purchase the same loaves of Tesco Value white-sliced bread, and the select the same key dishes from the menus of many Indian restaurants.
“Chicken Korma, Bombay Potato, Chicken Dansak and Vegetable Pathia, please! One plain nan bread and two chapatis!”
“Side dishes?”
“Yes, the usual! Ooops, sorry, I mean we’ll have Ladie’s Fingers please! And the aubergine and the chick peas and the …..”
Stuffed. Stuffed on the usual. But, somehow, the usual tastes somewhat better for being served up in Shropshire.
Stuffed and sluggish, we slither back via the graveyard to The Promenade.
My antennae twitch, as they detect an interesting diversion.


“Sprog 3! You are needed! Get snapping! Take a photo of me wrapped up in that doily over there!”

“What doily?”

“That doily, the one that your Great Grandparents used to put on silver cake stands to impress important guests. Only that particular one merged itself into the cake stand and then got itself remodelled into an arty-farty pirate boat – before mooring itself onto land.”

“Mum, what are you babbling on about?”

“It’s history, me hearties – pirate history!”

“But, we’re nowhere near the sea!”

“Exactly. There’s the point entirely. The people of Ellesmere wanted to see the sea, but couldn’t afford the trip, so they asked the Council for paddle boats to use on The Mere. The Council refused, due to the cost. Instead, they agreed to display a pirate boat replica, made by a local volunteer. And that volunteer was your ….”

Jay Cool, trying to blend into the grey.

At this point, I realise that Hubby, Sprog 2 and Sprog 3 have albeit vanished. And I’m being stared out of my pirate shelter by a gaggle of aggressive-looking alien sprogs, who want me out, so that they can get on board. I’d like to stay put – it’s starting to rain again out there – but, seeing as they are  backed up by a big muscly-looking dad, tapping away at his top-notch mobile phone, I make my move. Not that I’m scared of him, of course! But, I have a hunch that he’s texting the men in the white van over there, to make themselves sharp, to bring over a straight-jacket for the crazy lady.

I jump into a lifeboat, refer to my compass, and orientate myself …

“Land ahoy!”

“We’ll be waiting for you back at the car!”

“Okay, won’t be a minute!”

And I float out to take sanctuary in the nearest graveyard.


I, Jay Cool, blogger extraordinaire, am here in Shropshire on a mission. And, it’s far from over …

 

 

Burial at sea?


Copyright owned by Jay Cool, April 2018

P.S. Sprog 3 is insisting that I include her photos of a giant wasp, a frame for my head, and a hanging hole. And, in recognition of Hubby, I am also including Sprog 3’s photo of spooky trees.

 

 

 

 


Sources: Photographs of The Red Lion at Myddle and of Ellesmere are the author’s and Sprog 3’s own. All other images are Creative Commons Licensed and from Pixabay.com.

(1) Richard Maddox, a savvy opportunist from Staffordshire, was said to have relocated an old barn from his house against the Lich Gate, to the site where The Red Lion Inn, of Myddle, now stands, for the sole purpose of selling ale from its premises.

(2) If you are wondering, and even if you are not, Sprog 1, being of maturer sensibilities than her parents, made the wise decision to distance herself from the Crazy Cools and attach herself to alternative hosts for the duration of the holiday. Why take the Myddle route, when you can stay on the Edge?

(3) Read ‘The Aquatic Ape’ by Elaine Morgan, if you don’t believe me about our fishy ancestors. If it’s been published in a book, it must be true!




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