Finding the cottage - on the literature, the picturesquely named Rose Cottage, in reality the more prosaic '2 Dishley Court' - turned out to be easier than getting into it. Directions included how to find the key safe - firstly 'the bottom one' would have been a less ambiguous description than 'the newer looking one', but this paled into comparison with how handy being given the correct code to get it open would have been. Just as well we didn't arrive in the middle of the night. Several minutes' worth of muttering and broken fingernails was followed by a defeated phonecall and an eventual call back with the real code, which bore no resemblance to the code I'd been emailed three days earlier.
Once in, the cottage proved lovely, two double bedrooms and a large living/dining room opening onto the back garden. We scoured the place for the appalling ornamentation that is traditionally to be found in these cottages and were not disappointed. A giant blue china frog, mouth gaping open and throat choked with dried teasels. Hollow-eyed pottery owls. A china blow fish. Perhaps best of all, three fluffy monkey toys with velcro hands hanging from the upstairs bannister like victims of a lynching.
The drainage is, as several strategically taped notes remind us, on a septic tank and therefore delicate. Dire warnings forbid the flushing of anything more substantial than the "normal quantities of toilet paper". What exactly constitutes a "normal" quantity of toilet paper? Let's hope nobody has a dodgy curry, eh?
The owners appear very trusting – there's a well-stocked wine rack in the toilet under the stairs, and a cupboard in the kitchen labelled "owners' cupboard please do not use", with various food items and a bottle of whisky in it!
The garden is alive with flutterings. Blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons, bluetits - on a tree at the front, a woodpecker; in the garden next door, three pheasants, heard more often than seen, a regular indignant cuckle followed by the heavy whir of wings. Bats circle the house as soon as dusk falls, and sparrows loop up under the eaves to scrabble above my bedroom ceiling. The birdseed next door attracts more than birds; another frequent visitor is what must be the largest and best-fed rat in the parish.
The weather at first was scorching, interrupted briefly on Saturday night by a thunder storm. We sat in the garden discussing all the places and things we should be going and looking at, whilst drinking wine and gin and picking at bits from the fridge instead.
We did venture out briefly on Saturday afternoon, touring through the black and white timber-framed villages of Dilwyn, Weobley, Pembridge, Eardisland, and Kingsland.
On Monday we went to Hay On Wye, scouring the bookshops and each accumulating a hefty to-read pile. We had a late lunch in the Old Black Lion pub, which was very nice and completely deserted but for one other table when we came in, and another couple who came in some time after us. I had lamb sausages with chips (9/10) and amazing onion gravy as thick as a cow pat (10/10), and M. had a roast beef sandwich of enormous proportions. The Black Lion Ale was also very nice and I was forced to have a second one.
After Hay we took a circular route around the Brecon Beacons, via Brecon, Merther Tydfyll and Abergavenny (bleak, mostly) and then back up the Golden Valley (Vowchurch, Peterchurch) to see Arthur's Stone, a neolithic chambered tomb. The views from above Dorstone were spectacular, and it even stopped raining for us.
Tuesday was dismal with rain, but we set out for Ledbury which has some lovely buildings and a pillared market hall, before driving through the Malverns. Probably some very spectacular views, if the visibility hadn't been about as far as the hedge.
Made it to a damp Worcester and had lunch in The Postal Order, ex-post office and telephone exchange (lasagne and chips, 10/10). Went round the cathedral, and saw the tomb of King John (both unexpected and timely, given I'd bought a copy of the play in Hay and was halfway through reading it). The crypt is open and used as a chapel, and held the sort of utter creepy silence that rings in your ears.
On Wednesday we went to Stokesay Castle, the prettiest fortified manor house in Shropshire (I'm not sure that's a long list to be fair, but it is lovely), and then the picturesque ruins of Wigmore Castle, which it turns out are for sale, for the bargain price of £800k.
Thursday was happily back to hot sunshine again, and I saw an orange tip butterfly in the garden - don't think I've seen one since I was a kid. Went round Leominster, found the green man carvings in the priory church and also a ducking stool, which seems to have been less used for actually ducking people than wheeling them round the town in it - presumably while going "wheeee!" One woman actually ducked for using foul language allegedly (and understandably) repeated the offence as soon as she was released, and it was ruefully noted that the punishment wasn't terribly effective.
Thursday evening we went to The Angel at Kingsland for dinner. I had asparagus wrapped in parma ham with lemon butter, followed by the world's biggest rack of ribs in barbecue sauce with chips and homemade coleslaw (11/10). M. had the baked brie followed by lamb rump with Moroccan vegetables and almond cous cous. Very nice pub, looking out onto the green in front of the church.
On the way home on Friday M. had to deliver some training to a client in Bristol, so I went to the zoo. It has a tunnel beneath the penguin and seal enclosures, so you can see them swimming over and beside you, and I saw the otters being fed.
The Twilight World section was so dark you had to virtually grope your way round (I and at least one person behind me walked painfully into a completely unseen barrier) but worth it because it has sand cats and aye ayes and the adorably mournful looking slow loris.
The butterfly house has loads of enormous free-fluttering butterflies, which freaked out the girl in front of me so much she had to escape back through the entrance. Not entirely sure what she'd been expecting...
The tapirs were swimming in their pool and munching on flowers, the red pandas were cavorting in their tree, the lions were sleepy and unconcerned, the lemurs were adorable, the gorillas looked depressed, but then gorillas always seem to look depressed. The tamarins were shagging, and looked quite indignant at having their photo taken (look, I thought they were having a cuddle).
So - a great week was had; now if only I didn't have to go back to work on Monday it would be even better...