14 August 2011

Enjoying blackberries along Cross-in-Hand Lane

Blackberries in full fruit on the side of Cross-in-Hand Lane, a few miles north of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

While London and many other parts of England were devastated by riots, looting and violence last week, the nearest I came to a Blackberry during the days I spent in Lichfield was the blackberries in the shrubs and the growths along the sides of the roads in the surrounding countryside.

I spent three days in Lichfield, staying at the Hedgehog, a country inn on Stafford Road, on the northern edge of the cathedral city. The 10-bedroom Hedgehog is a country house pub and restaurant with all the attraction of a bijou hotel, and is part of “Innkeeper’s Lodge” chain. It has local charm and character that attracts business and leisure travellers alike, local people and ramblers, as well as diners and drinkers from Lichfield and the surrounding villages.

The Hedgehog was built as Lyncroft House in 1797 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Originally known as Lyncroft House and dating from 1797, the Hedgehog is within sight of Lichfield Cathedral. Each day we strolled down Stafford Road and Beacon Street to the cathedral, to attend Evening Prayer, to see the exhibition of the “Staffordshire Hoard,” and to take part in the Cathedral Eucharist.

There was time too to pray in the chapel at Saint John’s Hospital on the corner of Saint John Street and Birmingham Road, to enjoy the gardens at the back of Darwin House, and to stroll through Vicar’s Close, the Cathedral Close, along Stowe Pool and along the new walk on the south side of Minster Pool.

On one enjoyable afternoon, we had lunch in the centre of Lichfield with a friend from my late teens and early 20s that I haven’t been in touch with for over 35 years. There were memories to share, stories to catch up on, friends to recall, once-favoured haunts in Lichfield and Rugeley to revisit in our minds’ eyes.

The Dominican Priory was only ten minutes from Lichfield and five minutes from Brereton and Rugeley, and stood on the edges of Armitage village. Spode House dated from the 13th century, and Hawkesyard Estate is steeped in Staffordshire history with links to the Rugeley family, the poet and author Nathaniel Lister, Josiah Spode the potter, and Sir Robert Peel.

After Josiah Spode’s niece, Helen Gulson, said she had a vision of the Virgin Mary in the gardens in 1893, a church was built at Hawkesyard and the altar was placed on the spot where she said the apparition took place. Helen Gulson left the hall, church and grounds in 1894 to the Dominican Order, who built a priory in the grounds. When the Dominicans left in 1988 the Hall fell into a state of disrepair and was boarded up.

The former priory building has been a nursing home since 1989, and the grounds have been turned into a gold club. Hawkesyard Estate is now a popular venue for civil weddings, golf, conferences, and the Wolseley National Car Rally, and is home to both Hawkesyard Hall and Saint Thomas’s Priory Golf Club, while some of the former priory buildings are now Hawksyard Priory Nursing Home.

On Friday afternoon, we recalled so many of our friends who loved going to Hawkesyard for the folk masses and the extended Sunday afternoons that inevitably followed. There were six underground tunnels at Hawkesyard, built to allow the estate workers to move quickly around the area, and two tunnels were said to lead to Lichfield and Armitage. But was I really the one who was so fearless to lead a group of us through those unexplored tunnels and vaults? And are the tunnels still there?

The Hedgehog has the charm of a country house and the comforts of a bijou hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Back at the Hedgehog, a former country house, we sat on the terrace at the front for lunch on the other days, and we dined al fresco there most evenings. On the evening we ate in Lichfield, we returned to the Hedgehog, and beneath the full moon we sipped wine or lingered slowly over a pitcher of Pimm’s, one of the charming pleasures of English summers.

The terrace looks out over a former ha-ha that has been fitted with wooden steps out over undulating gardens and a rolling field that has been sensitively adapted as a beer garden and a play area. Below, in a small wooded area, in among trees, a few chairs offer a place of tranquillity and opportunities for solitude and contemplation.

The golden and green fields in the countryside beside the Hedgehog (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

An open, creaking rusty gate invited us to stroll on further into the surrounding fields of golden yellows and rich greens. We took a turn into Cross-in-Hand Lane, and took the gentle rise of the leafy lane that leads up to Abnall’s Farmhouse, the Swallows and Ashmore Brooke Dairy Farm.

Strolling under the overhanging trees on Cross-in-Hand Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Some of the farmhouses and cottages here date from the 1840s or earlier. Fruit is dropping from the over-hanging trees, there are horses in the fields, gentle sounds from streams and brooks, and friendly cyclists out in small groups for a Saturday spin.

This narrow, rural road leads on the tiny villages of Farewell and Chorley, and on out into Cannock Chase. There is more to explore during another stay at the Hedgehog.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I just picked a mess of berries the other day, Nice site
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