Reports - Weekends 2015

30th Anniversary Weekend – Yew Lodge Hotel, Kegworth

October 23rd, 2015

Day 1 at the National Country Link Weekend at the Yew Lodge Hotel, Kegworth, Leicestershire - a wet, gloomy autumnal day and a first time boarding of a bendy bus, an obsessional fact with certain ladies. I am sure York will not be the only city to have P and R bendy buses.


image002.jpgTo the Sumnalls Packington East Farm for our first venue farm visit. The farm, now 400 acres, was once a dairy farm, being of heavy clay soil type and exploited for coal 1952-1978. One hundred and ten acres were entered into a National Forest scheme funded for leisure business interests. Mr Sumnall and his partner have been well pleased with the regular 1,600 attendees on Open Farm Sundays.

Within the landscaping of trees, we walked down a leafy lane to two batches of deer, just past the rutting season. We were informed there were no casualties this year.

The rules as regards husbandry and slaughter, as ever, are how our Government interprets international law. It's getting the design for regulations right, the classification as animals being of the wild or farm variety. Deer, classed as wild, are tested for TB on slaughter. They feed on carrots and parsnip when grass is in short supply; they prefer to eat carrots, we were told. If they were fed in troughs, they would be classed as farm animals. The herds had had a worming problem. Two miles of fences have been erected at £18 per metre.

The next animal enterprise visited was to see the bison herd of 21. The herd was housed for the annual eight year TB test. For his requirements, Mr Sumnall said he slaughters just one animal a year. The cortisone levels in the eyes are very noticeable in deer and bison compared with cattle.


Bison are a herding animal, compared with deer, which are of independent nature. These species are all interbred, new bloodlines eventually strengthening the herds. Traceability rules when meats from these animals are sold through the farm shop. This must have been the first time many of us had seen a bison herd, never mind eating the meat in the form of a burger.

After a vote of thanks from Maria, we went on to our next venue - the Moira Furnace is one of few remaining industrial sites of the empire of Francis Rawdon Hastings, second Earl of Moira. The Furnace worked from 1806-1807 for ten months and from 1810-1811. With debts of £370,000 from this enterprise, the politician, landowner and military commander fled to Malta, thereby escaping his creditors.

image004.jpgIn an area rich in minerals, the coal proved to be of poor quality for the 24 hour furnace process - a very unlucky business venture. A typical furnace charge was of four parts coke (impurities taken out of coal), five parts ironstone and two parts limestone, all measured by weight. The exact portion of the charge was determined by trial and error, and depended on the composition of the raw materials and the type of iron required. With the charge period to emerge at the hearth after 24 hours, the consistency of the raw materials was important - measuring and charging must have required great skill. At the coke level, a blast of air was forced in from a steam blowing engine to cause the coke to burn at a high temperature, up to 1,000 degrees C. Molten iron was tapped off at the hearth every 12 hours. Pig iron, so named by the moulded pig shapes laid out to cool, like pigs sleeping.

There was the opportunity for a canal cruise during our Moira Furnace tour, the very Ashby Canal which brought the raw materials in by barge. Materials were transported by horse up the ramp over the canal to the loft area, where the raw materials for the smelting process were assembled.

image005.jpgThe furnace charging took place from the loft top area with an initial 40ft drop to the bottom of the furnace, coke first, then ironstone and limestone, using the lie of the land at each side of the canal; it was a 24ft haul up to a 40ft drop.

There is evidence of an explosion at the top of the furnace when the temperature and gases built up out of control.

Day 2 - The venue for me was to the National Trust property of Calke Abbey, the ancestral home and estate of the Harpur Crewe family.

From 1622 to 1984 the family ancestry had become reclusive hoarders, collecting up to 10,000 objects in a time capsule of a house. The National Trust, against its own remit of acquiring properties to be looked at as being lived in, bought the property in 1984 with the idea of having most of the rooms looking as authentic as possible.

The rooms are kept dry and humidity controlled.

The usual rooms in the house visited, including the caricature room, which was entertainment long before TV. A rocking horse and sedan chair were much admired before walking up the cantilever oak staircase to the dining room, breakfast room, the saloon, drawing room, library etc. Various other rooms left with clutter in situ. Wonderful clutter. Two thousand cases of wildlife taxidermy were left in the house. Just one third of the wildlife in cases is on show now. Animal heads on the walls confront the visitor from when first stepping into the entrance hall. Geology and fossil specimens also appear in show cases. Most of the wildlife would be from the estate and parkland outside the house, which has SSI status.

We exit the house via the servant's tunnel. His master, the squire and his family, did not want to come across servants outside their home.

Across parkland we walk to the estate church with its tablets on the inside walls recording the lives of the Harpur Crewe families. Hatchments with the inscribed word 'Resurgam' also adorn the walls. On walking to the cottage walled garden we could hear the park's wild deer in the rutting season. In the walled garden, we were surprised to see a multitude of palm trees growing in between the neat flower beds. A survivor of the Glaciation period grows as a tree species outside the garden. It's a sturdy tree known as the 'Ginko' maiden hair tree. The orangery and ice house have benefited from restoration.

The family had racehorse stables built in 1712. At that time, the horses were walked to local race courses.

In the park, we saw a long accredited herd of English Longhorn Cattle.

Over the years, as history tells us, the power and wealth changes and moves from once well off country estates to Governments and politicians of today.

With thanks to the Derbyshire Country Link team for organising the hotel accommodation and venues during the weekend of 23rd to 26th October 2015.


Tom Knox
Yorkshire Country Link


See the photographs of the Autumn weekend in the gallery →

South West Area Country Link - 30th Anniversary Summer Ball

June 20th, 2015

At The Lord Haldon Country Hotel, Dunchideock, Exeter

image002.jpgIt's been over three years since the last South West Area Dinner Dance at The Lord Haldon Hotel at Dunchideock, so we decided to make this one a bit special and hold it in the summer in the year of Country Link's 30th anniversary - hence the 30th Anniversary Summer Ball.

Set in the beautiful Devon countryside just a few miles outside Exeter, Dunchideock is ideally situated for Country Linkers from all over the South West and beyond. The hotel itself is all that remains of an early 18th century mansion (Haldon House) and was visited by many great people - including King George IV and Guglielmo Marconi. The majority of the house was destroyed in the 1940s and the remaining east wing now forms the Lord Haldon Hotel.

The Summer Ball was held on Saturday 20th June. Several people arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon and enjoyed a scenic 5 mile walk (with hills!) from the hotel taking in part of nearby Haldon Forest and panoramic views from Belvedere Tower (built in 1788). We even caught a glimpse of the Red Arrows.

image001.jpg76 people from all over the South West and further afield attended the Ball itself in the evening, with several former members joining in with the fun! Ten ex South Devon members and an ex Berkshire member came along - sadly neither of these groups are still going so it was especially nice that they were able to join us and we hope to see them again! We all enjoyed a delicious three course meal with coffee and danced until midnight. DJ Simon kept the dance floor full all night with some great music. We also raised £211 for The Samaritans with a raffle - thanks to all those who contributed prizes or bought tickets.

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On the Sunday some of us went back to Haldon Forest to hear a talk from one of the wardens and then follow the well-used trails through the woods. We encountered lots of walkers, cyclists, horse riders and some people using the Segway! It's a popular place especially on a sunny Father's Day! Other Country Linkers headed to walk along the nearby estuary.

image005.jpgWe joined together again after lunch to visit the beautiful gardens at Haldon Grange just behind the hotel. The 12 acre garden and 5 acre arboretum was opened specially for us by Ted Phythian with some wonderful plants, flowers and trees, and amazing water features. The gardens were once the pleasure gardens to Haldon House.

image006.jpgAfter a good wander through the gardens we returned to the hotel for a sumptuous cream tea before saying "goodbye" to several Country Linkers who were heading home.

About a dozen of us stayed at the hotel on Sunday night, enjoying a meal at The Nobody Inn in Doddiscombsleigh that evening. A couple of the ex South Devon members, Edward and Marion, joined us there too which was really lovely.

Four of us rounded off our weekend with a visit to Powderham Castle, made extra interesting with the commentary of the guide Alan who regaled us with all sorts of tales about the castle and its previous occupants.

All in all a great weekend! Thanks to all those who joined us!
Valda and Martin


Spring Weekend - Shropshire

May 8th, 2015


Robyn - winner of the fancy dress
competition 'Country Bumpkins'

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a member of Country Link is the opportunity twice a year to meet up with fellow Country Linkers from all parts of the country and have a long weekend together.

This spring the Shropshire group took up the baton and put on a real fun weekend, just outside Telford. The hotel, the Buckatree Hall hotel was in an ideal setting and provided us with excellent accommodation and food. It does not take five minutes to plan a weekend. It takes a considerable amount of time to research, book and organise and anyone willing to organise a weekend deserves all of our admiration and thanks.

Everyone has their own ideas about reaching the venue, myself and Valda chose to set out a day early and took the scenic route to Telford, which was excellent. We reached the hotel at about 3.30pm and already several members were there and we were warmly greeted by our hosts and organisers, Caroline and Robyn. They provided us with a welcome pack with all the relevant information needed and some goodies. The biscuits were soon devoured with a cup of tea.

The weekend really started gathering pace when we all met up in the bar prior to the evening meal and entertainment, the majority of us were in fancy dress, the theme being rather apt, country bumpkins. Some very good costumes were on display and the winners were chosen later on in the evening.


Rodney and Gill individuals, Tony and Karen in the group section.

The meal was an excellent buffet with plenty to choose from in plentiful supply.

The evening's entertainment was a good old fashioned disco playing some good danceable tunes. The evening ended shortly after midnight. The country bumpkins had a busy next day!!!

The breakfast room was heaving, the chatter was loud, old friends catching up on all of the news. By 9.30am the first of the buses were leaving to take us on our chosen tours and visits, we chose Blists Hill a working Victorian museum and Ironbridge. Other activities were a farm walk to a progressive dairy farm and then a Longhorn Beef farm run on the organic principle.

Another choice was a visit to Shrewsbury and a boat trip. Of course you could also do your own thing.

We certainly enjoyed our day and from what I heard from others their trips also went well.





The Saturday evening gala dinner was again very good and the evenings Entertainment was fun. During the evening we were able to help charities by taking part in a tom bola and raffle. I suspect that a decent amount was raised, well done.

Sunday's activities started after breakfast and we car shared to RAF Cosford and its mightily impressive museum. I like air planes and I was a kid in a sweetshop. Others went to a local NT property or a physically taxing walk up the Wrekin hill that's on the doorstep of the hotel. The clubs official business was dealt with in the late afternoon.


Martin in the toy Shed!

Our evening meal was followed by a pub quiz which kept us busy for the remainder of the evening


Heads and Tails, Gemma ,Vicki, Robyn and Martin

The weekend ended after Monday's breakfast and we all went our separate ways.

The Country Link weekend tradition remains intact and plans are well in hand for the autumn break in Derbyshire, many people have already booked.

Friendships were continued and new friendships formed that's the nature of Country Link.

Martin - Cornwall member


See the photographs of the Spring weekend in the gallery →

East Midlands Area Weekend in Scarborough

March 20th, 2015

image001.jpgTwenty five country linkers from 6 different clubs converged on Scarborough for 3 days holiday, seeing new things, walking and meeting new friends.

Travelling up to Yorkshire, we took advantage of a loo stop at the services and were able to catch a glimpse of the eclipse along with other fellow motorway travellers.

Some country linkers visited Nunnington Hall on route, a National Trust house, taking a breakfast picnic and playing pooh sticks on the way in, others participated in afternoon tea.

Once all checked in (John remembering Skegness!) we met our hosts Gavin and Sally of the Victoria Sea view Hotel.

We gathered in the bar for a swifter before dinner. After enjoying a 3 course dinner some ventured out. While Rodney took to the stage, others chatted in the hotel bar or rested for the next day.


On Saturday after a hearty breakfast we were off in a crocodile to catch the open top bus to south shore. We met Tony, a fisherman, who spoke to us about fishing and the scallop boats in the harbour, showed us the filleting of different fish and how to recognised fresh fish.

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Tony at Work Guess Who? First up the stairs!

We regrouped after lunch for a guided walk from Phil, a member of Scarborough Ramblers Group. Phil took us on a 3 mile walk taking in the castle, toll gate and beach huts. We visited Freddie, a metal sculpture on the seafront donated to the town by a resident, who can be seen watching the waves come in for hours!


The walk was very bracing as the eclipse had affected the already high tides, and later the coast road was closed to cars etc.

The evening started with drinks at 7pm, then all aboard 4 mini buses to take us to the Golden Grid restaurant in town on the seafront, where most of us had fish as we were by the sea.

The evening continued for some at the Grand Hotel dancing until the early hours then home with Nippy taxi once more.

Sunday morning, after breakfast we collected our picnics and took to the cars as we went off to Ravenscar Visitors Centre to meet the National trust guide (ZoŽ) who walked us to Robin Hoods Bay via the Alum works. Alum was used to fix the colours when dying clothes in Henry 8th's time, using urine and stone. Thankfully this process has changed!

We also went fossil hunting, yes I know we took some with us!


The Devil's Toe Nail

Zoe explained what to look for, and the Devil Toe was found and others.

After lunch and an ice cream we set off for home. In the afternoon sun and tranquil seas we walked up some very steep hills to join the old Whitby railway line. Pilk came up troops and took some home, who had too much ice cream, and heard the mid-day cannon fired from the top of Robin Hoods bay.


We were off to the Scarborough indoor bowls centre for a taster afternoon (shoes changed) and a basic lesson on indoor bowls. Bias nearest the jack, woods not balls and we played on a rink not a pitch. We had a short game before taking tea, and returning to the hotel, to refresh for dinner which was only a short walk away, phew!

Regrouped in the hotel bar, recharging our batteries after a busy day, some chose to watch Poldark in the hotel lounge, while others found a real ale pub, not far away.

The Victoria Sea view Hotel was a great find in the winter of 2014, Sally and Gavin were wonderful hosts and run a very good hotel, which I would recommend and visit again.


Thank you to all country linkers who attended this weekend and participated - making the weekend a great success.

Extra photos will go on the gallery page under Scarborough 2015.


See the photographs of the East Midlands Weekend in the gallery →

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