Friday, February 18, 2011
Ironbridge, Ledbury, sleeeeeeeeeeep
I've never been to Ironbridge and there was no way I was going to miss out on a visit as I was in the area. However as you may have gathered things were conspiring against me. Each day I had a plan something changed. When I woke up early on Wednesday morning and saw sun, I knew I had one last chance and I was going to take it. The sun didn't last. The first part of the journey from Tewksbury was lovely then the fog appeared. Just what you want on unfamiliar roads (narrow windy roads) in an elderly motorhome with poor lights. Oh well, it's still better the the torrential rain. I also discovered that the sat nav doesn't entirely work in the area, but it got me close enough to follow the road signs, which are excellent. The first picture I took from the van in the carpark. This is actually as I was about to leave as when I arrived the fog was lower and the bridge was quite hard to see. I may be sad (OK I AM sad) but I was thrilled to see the bridge even covered in fog.
It was however cold. Very cold, so I decided not to spend too much time in the town. I did have to have a little wander around though so I had an excuse to cross the bridge a couple of times. I think February was the perfect time to visit. It may have been cold and foggy but there was just one tourist in town. Me! The river may look calm in the picture, but trust me it was moving at quite a pace.
I only had a couple of hours in the area so I knew I wasn't going to be able to see all the attractions in the gorge (I think there are 10 museums in the area) but I was determined to make it the Blists Hill Victorian town. Fortunately it was open as Thursday it was closed to have the roads resurfaced. For once a close call that was just in my favour. It did mean that the town was full of workmen and some areas were quite hard to access. When I bought my ticket I was told the foundry would be casting at 11, which gave me the framework for my visit. Please excuse the quality of the pictures. They are taken at low resolution on my mobile phone through a window into a dark room with bright spots. Not exactly ideal conditions.
The first one shows the metal being poured into the bucket that is then used to fill the moulds. The children watching were all amazed by the 'liquid fire'. It's a good description even when you know it is molten metal. It is so alive and magical, pictures do not do it justice. Next time I will have to try and get video but I'm not convinced that will really capture it either.
In the next picture you can see the long rows of moulds ready to be filled. Most of them make one item but a few do have two smaller pieces in. The ones smoking are already full. They are just sand that has been moulded into shape with a wooden base.
Two men carry the bucket of molten iron over to the moulds and pour. I would say it took about 20 minutes to fill every mould in the room.
I then went for a walk around the town. The dressmaker is just across the road from the foundry and I loved chatting to her about corsets and sewing machines. On the counter she has the cutest little chainstitch machine, just as well it wasn't for sale. A little further up the road is the chipped potato shop. I liked the friers more than the chips unfortunately. It turns out I like my potatoes cooked in oil not beef fat. Who would have thought it.
A little further on is the sweet shop. I really enjoyed being able to buy sweets by the quarter again. As previously noted, I am sad very very sad, and quite proud of it. With a bit of effort I managed to make my way right to the far end of the town, despite the workman's best efforts. The candle maker was fascinating, as was the chemist. I never managed to catch the baker with bread, but maybe next time. I did find it a little disturbing how many products they had that I had been looking for. It seems I can shop easier in a Victorian town than a modern one. I've often suspected I was in the wrong era.
After the walk I headed back to the foundry where they were unmoulding the castings. To do that they grab the mould by the wooden base and fling the sand and casting onto a heap of sand. Then you dig for your casting, with a hammer. Hitting the casting scatters the sand very quickly then you can retrieve the item. Most of them weren't as hot as the one in the picture, but of course that meant they didn't show as well in the photo. This one is a bell door stop. To separate items that are moulded in pairs the casting is dropped on the floor. I was surprised that it only ever seemed to break where they wanted it to. I guess it must sometimes go wrong, but not often enough to merit spending longer on separating the parts. Yes I did buy a few pieces while I was there. It's surprising how cheap they are.
Just after lunch I had to leave and head for my last booking on the tour in Ledbury. By this time the weather had cleared and it was a nice drive. Well except for the slightly creative route the sat nav came up with. It found me a bridge to cross, with a height limit, weight limit and width limit all of which I failed, and it really liked the idea a lot. I decided to drive in a different direction until it gave up on that idea. By failing to spot my hosts house I accidentally ended up in a craft gallery. Fortunately the lady looking after the gallery didn't see me as a potential customer or I would have come home with a sculpture of a horse that I really didn't need but really did want.
After being plied with coffee, dinner, a private quilt show and a dog (a very very handsome dog) we headed for the venue for the talk. Typically after saying how important parking was at a venue, the whole county had decided to park in the area, but after a bit of shuffling back and forth (with all the really heavy stuff) a space did free up close to the venue which made reloading a lot easier. Setting up was a giggle, largely due to the number of friendly faces in the audience. Lots of the ladies from Leominster had made good on their promise and come for the talk, and were keen to help wherever they could. I don't know if I was on form or if it was just the perfect audience for me, but the talk seemed to go down very well with a lot of laughs and groans in all the right places. I think I need to take this group with me to lead the other audiences. On the other hand perhaps they should worry that they share my sense of humour. I should also say they make them tough here, my helper made it though the talk without flagging and trust me, some of the last quilts in the talk are heavy.
Packing up was almost as much fun as setting up, and before I knew it the van was loaded and I was on my way. I had decided to aim to get to Oxford services as it's a long drive to start at 10pm especially after a week on the road. I got lucky though, I followed a lorry for most of the way to Oxford which I find a great help when they are going about the speed I want to. They show me what the road is doing ahead of me and they are someone else on the road. It seems to convince my brain that this is a normal and reasonable thing to be doing whatever the time of night. I did stop at Oxford but after a snack and a drink decided I was fine to head on. By 2am I was home, and bribing my cats. I assure them that I only go away to bring them food so I figure it is a good idea to come back with treats. They seem to agree.
Since then I have taught two regular classes and caught up on some sleep. I've discovered I sleep very well in the van but not so much in strange buildings, be they hotels or houses, so I was due some catch up. To be honest I could still use some more sleep, but there are quilts waiting and a class tomorrow, so it will be a few days before I am quite back to normal. That said, I can't wait to go back :) There really is no pleasing some people is there :)