Reports - Weekends 2017

Autumn Weekend 2017 - Warwickshire Country Link

After a lapse of almost 10 years the Warwickshire group were pleased to welcome 117 members over the last weekend of October 2017 and hope all that attended enjoyed themselves - if not, why not?

The Best Western Plus Ullesthorpe Court Hotel provided us with an excellent venue and looked after us very well. Staff and facilities could not be faulted and some members stayed from Thursday to Monday before travelling home.

We kicked off on Friday evening with a buffet and dancing to Cream disco and a Shakespeare themed fancy dress - lots of laughter and catching up with friends from all over the country.

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Following a hearty breakfast on Saturday morning coaches arrived to take members on their chosen trips. Stratford on Avon was off first led by John Rowlands, Barbara & David Dawkins and they enjoyed time looking around and taking a trip on the river.

Ken and myself took a group to East Leicestershire where they visited a progressive livestock farm in the Welland Valley followed by a tour of Langton Brewery where a delicious Leicestershire Ploughman's and plenty of tasting was on offer. We finished off the day by visiting the local Debdale Marina and looked around their repair and rebuild facilities for narrowboats.

John Lawton took the third group to visit a farm near Market Bosworth and then for a ride on the Battlefield Train Line which took them through the area of the Battle of Bosworth.


On return to the hotel it was time to dress up for the Gala Dinner followed by dancing to a local band, The Munix, who kept us very well entertained during the evening along with Alan the Magician who visited each table to show his magic tricks.


Sunday it was time for everyone to go off under their own steam. Various trips had been organised to Foxton Locks, Bruntingthorpe Airfield, A Walking Treasure Hunt, a Farm Walk and Garden Centre and the very popular Gliding at another local airfield.

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During the weekend we ran different fund-raising events including a tombola, bingo, how many sweets in the jar, guess the name of the doll and a quiz so that we could support our chosen charity for the weekend. Bloodwise (formerly known as Leukaemia Research). We are delighted to say that £1000 was raised for this worthy cause - many thanks to everyone that either helped run an event or donated cash over the weekend.

Returning to the hotel saw the members meeting taking place where everyone is updated on what Country Link is up to and all can put their points forward for consideration. Following this we had a lovely Sunday carvery (3 courses again) and this was followed by an evening of entertainment. We had a local Tale Teller in telling us stories - whether or not you believe them is up to you! Sophie sang a selection of songs and we also managed a few games of bingo - this was then followed by "The Last Night of Country Link" and took the form of a Proms type sing-a-long and everyone entered into this with great heart.

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What a weekend we had and everyone departed on Monday morning fired up and looking forward to next Spring which is to be a visit to the City of Culture.

See you there.

Warwickshire County Link

Autumn Weekend 2017 - Tom Knox

Many thanks to Tom for producing a detailed and interesting account of the recent Weekend.

Friday 27th - Monday 30th October 2017

Once again, members enjoyed a weekend of visits and socialising based at Ullesthorpe Court Best Western Hotel at Ullesthorpe, near Hinckley, Leicestershire. By the end of the weekend, I heard the comment 'If it wasn't for Country Link, I would not realise how many diverse businesses operate in Great Britain'.

The variety of Weekend visits start off traditionally with a farm visit - an early coach trip to our venue at the Shawston Grange Estate in the Welland Valley. Formerly a shooting lodge, the whole Estate is owned by the owner of the Shoe Zone chain of shops.

After refreshments, the farm manager led us over a large area of cement aprons to the livestock roundhouses, a total investment of £265,000 manufactured by C and A Buildings of Northumberland. The buildings have significant advantages as regards feeding, ventilation and handling. Aberdeen Angus calves are brought in from the dairy herds around March time at three to four months old, and are finished at eighteen to twenty months old to be sold under contract to the Sainsburys Deli Counter Scheme, a traceability scheme. The farm is registered as organic, livestock grass and clovers fed for six months, then winter finished on a silage/cereal feed ad lib. Throughout the year long period, the animals are monitored by CCTV to the mobile phone, handled for electronic ID and growth rates. It is believed the housing ventilation system delivers improved live weight gains, a roof rainwater harvest takes place from the 220m circumference roundhouse canopy roof, a 25 year guarantee canopy roof. The Estate's waste wood is chipped and passed through a 72 hour drying process and an auger feed keeps the oven working at 250 kilowatts temperature home heating.

Our next visit was to a microbrewery business set up in a redundant farm building. The business is running at 400 casks, 7,000 bottles at present. A firkin is a nine gallon barrel with the smaller four and a half gallon barrel more popular. It is by no coincidence the breweries in Great Britain are situated where the best water quality is on tap. Water runs into the first stainless steel tank, water heated to 75 degrees in the boiling tank with hops added to malted barley for aroma, bitterness and flavour. There are 50 varieties of hop. The Amarillo variety is only grown on six USA farms. The water has to be down to 23/24 degrees for fermentation to take place in 2,000 litre tanks. Yeast (dry or wet) added in a five hour process sees the sugars converted into alcohol. Hydrometer testing throughout, 16 degrees to 20 degrees yeast will work; yeast drops to the bottom of the product. Beer was considered safer to drink than water years ago. Malt barley - barley having gone through the roasting process - was used over and over again, hence the expression 'small beer'.

Our final visit of the day was to Debdale Wharf Marina for a tour of the workshops, spraying unit and boatyard. Situated hear the Grand Union Canal, the business encompasses pleasure boats for hire, canal barge repair and engineering onboard refits. Thirty two ton canal barges are lifted out of a covered canal layby. This is the first time I had seen the bottom of a canal vessel. Flat sheet steel plate is a fixture on the bottom of a canal traditional boat/barge/vessel. The canal depth is only 3 feet we were told. In the spray paint shop, the under the water parts are shot blasted/cleaned by using an iron filings product, a zinc aluminium paint is applied, with a ten year warranty - in reality, the treatment will last 40 years. Zinc absorbs corrosion under the steel plated boat bottoms. Maintenance is very important when all types of canal vessels can cost between £70,000 to £100,000 new.

On the Sunday, it was a car share to Bruntingthorpe Airfield, a USA airfield in the 1950s/1960s, with the last USA hangar built in GB. The airfield was sold in 1983 and as well as a collection of vintage aeroplanes, the former airfield is now a giant compound for 23,600 motor vehicles, held through various circumstances for 50p per day storage facility and sold by auction through car sales company Malheim. We boarded a bendy bus driven by the airfield owner to visit the far end of the two mile long runway where Home Office vehicle testing takes place. The star of the vintage aeroplanes is the 'Guppy', a jet turbo propeller plane designed to transport British Aerospace aeroplane wings from Chester to France, where Airbuses were manufactured in the 1970s/1980s. The front end cockpit opened up like a fish's mouth, wings placed in on their edges.

Our final visit of the Weekend was to Foxton Locks and Incline. The development of the Leicestershire Canals paralleled that of the rest of the waterway system. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the rivers Trent and Soar were improved, the navigation system eventually reaching Leicester itself. Construction of the Grand Junction Canal began in 1793, between the Thames in London and Braunston, Northants, where it would connect with the North Oxford Canal to Birmingham. It also had a branch to Northampton and the River Nene. In 1810, at Foxton, they opted for the necessary 7 foot gauge wide series of ten locks, so lifting the traffic up the hillside contours to 412 feet above sea level. Nearby, with imagination, one sees the hillside slope where Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift was built in 1900. Built at right angles to the canal locks, steam accumulator water tanks lifted and lowered the two canal barges in a counter balance mechanism. The lift operation took only 12 minutes to lift up to four barges, as opposed to 45 minutes via the ten locks. An amazing piece of Victorian engineering, the lift was built with the best of intentions, when trade was good, despite having been in competition with the railways. Closed in 1911, scrapped in 1928.

This write up is through the encouragement by members after what was heard at the Members Meeting.

Tom Knox

Yorkshire Country Link

See the photographs of the Autumn weekend in the gallery →

Newquay Weekend 2017 – An Organiser’s View

At the Spring 2016 weekend in Melton Mowbray, Martin and I had volunteered to try to find a suitable venue and organise the National Weekend for Spring 2017 in Cornwall. We thought we would try Newquay as we had not had a Country Link weekend there before.

As anyone organising a weekend knows, the most difficult part is finding the right hotel (number of bedrooms, size of function rooms, quality, cost etc. etc.), and we contacted and visited many "potentials" before arriving at "The Pentire Hotel". We were immediately impressed with the hotel staff and their enthusiasm. Then we had to see if they had any dates that would fit with our requirements and negotiate prices. We agreed on the weekend of 19th to 22nd May, with a three night weekend at a very good price. The hotel was very helpful with all the arrangements including our requests for entertainment. They were able to offer a range of rooms for singles, twins, doubles and suites that we were able to use very flexibly.

As well as the hotel, we also needed to come up with a good variety of visits (including refreshments for some trips), coaches, timings, welcome packs, decorations, "souvenirs" and prizes for fancy dress and other competitions. We found that trips were easier to arrange by direct contact (visits or phone calls) as emails were often ignored!

We decided that we would try to raise some money for charities with a tombola, raffle, "heads and tails" game and a "Cornish stall". Several members of our own group, and some of the national committee, generously contributed some prizes for these. We decided on three lesser-known charities so that we could raise awareness as well as money. These were "National Coastwatch Institute", "The Addingtons Fund" and "Sarcoidosis Research".

We welcomed 126 residents to the hotel. The majority arrived on the Friday but a few arrived for an extra night on the Thursday. We also had over 20 non-residents dropping in and out of various activities. The Friday night had a theme of "60" or "Sixties" - this was based on the name of the Bistro in the hotel and the hotel address - and was very popular with a large proportion of people entering into the spirit with some excellent costumes. Our musical entertainment was from "Cornwall Parties" who kept the 60s music and the dancing going until midnight.

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Winning the fancy dress were - Martin for his costume as a Stopwatch, Linda for her Flintstone costume, and Carol and Peter won the couples fancy dress as hippies.

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We also had a tombola using numbers on pebbles (the pebbles were recycled from the weekend on the Isle of Wight in 2014).


After a hearty Cornish breakfast on Saturday morning coaches arrived to whisk us away to the various visits.

One trip was to Fentongollan flower farm (who produce millions of plants and bulbs to a very exact standard) followed by a boat trip on the river Fal from Truro to Falmouth. Lunch was provided in the form of delicious Cornish pasties and yummy cakes - both from local firms- to eat on the boat.

There was a trip to Porthcurno Telegraph museum, not far from Land's End and a tour and tasting at Polgoon vineyard and cider farm - very enjoyable.

The third trip took a group to the world famous Eden project and to Charlestown, with a bonus visit to Par market.

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newq11.jpg newq12.jpgAfter returning to the hotel in the evening it was time to dress up for a posh-frock do with pre-dinner drinks and five (yes 5) courses before a chance to try your hand at the fun casino, buy some raffle tickets, and to dance to the disco until midnight - another great evening! The music was provided by Diamond Disco and the floor was always full!

Alan and Emma were the top prize-winners for the fun casino that was run by the Newquay Lions club for their charities. There were tables for roulette and black jack and lots of people tried their hands to win, with several who had never been to a casino before.

We also had some lovely prizes for the raffle raising more money for our chosen charities.

On Sunday morning we had the National Country Link AGM with reports and election of officers, and a proposal relating to roles of president and vice presidents which sparked lively discussion.

newq14.jpgnewq13.jpgThen it was off to more interesting visits in Newquay and further afield - South Penquite mutton farm near Blisland on Bodmin moor was a very popular choice. This trip involved a picnic and then a tour of this farm in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Another visit was to the National Trust property of Trerice house just outside Newquay.

In Newquay itself there were visits to the zoo, the aquarium and Pirates Quest.

newq15.jpgOn returning to the hotel we had been fortunate to book pre-dinner entertainment from a local male voice choir "Oll an Gwella" - based in Newquay itself. That was very popular, with some well known songs , some more "interesting" versions of some of the words and lots of audience participation.

Almost everyone joined in with another fund-raiser in the form of the "heads and tails" game before sitting down to another delicious 3 course meal. After dinner there was more live entertainment from Scott Finn and his wife providing a great sound to dance to. There was also a Cornish retail opportunity - a chance to buy some souvenirs and also contribute to the charity coffers. Plus there was a pom-pom battle - courtesy of Cumbria Country Link! It was all lots of fun and a great way to round off the entertainment for the weekend.

It is always sad to say "goodbye", but Monday morning saw most people heading home from Newquay, although a few did stay on a bit longer. It was great to have so many members from all over the country enjoy the hospitality of The Pentire hotel and the various delights of Cornwall. Arranging the weekend took almost a year. Martin and I were busy throughout the weekend itself, but thoroughly enjoyed it! We have had a bit of a breather since the weekend, and are still finalising the accounts and the charity money. All-in- all it will have kept us busy for over 15 months. But we have met new people, learnt a lot, and have made more friends!

We are very grateful for thehelp of several Cornwall Country Link members in a variety of ways, some of National committee members and others for their support, all the hosts of visits, the various entertainers and for the very hard-working staff at the hotel.

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Valda and Martin,
Cornwall Country Link

Weekend in Newquay, Cornwall

Friday 19th May - Monday 22nd May 2017

Fentongollan Flower Farm

A welcome meeting with beverages and biscuits under nesting swallows in the roofbeams was addressed by the Hosking brothers. A family farm run on a traditional mixed Cornish system until the early 1960s when a switch to flower bulb, vegetables, principally cauliflower, spring cabbage etc was undertaken. Now, 2,500 acres are managed on a contract, renting, share farming basis as well as having land ownership. Flowers and bulbs grown on many a small hilly field, totalling 1,600 acres in all. Just before Mothering Sunday the marketing steps up, when supermarkets and garden centres are supplied. Mail order is also a very important side of the business; money first, before order posting.

Into the seed sowing warehouse where veg seed at £200 a kilo (1990s) before hybrid seed came onto the market is individually sown in peat and watered, 300 plugs in one tray. 25,000 plant seeds stored in the warehouse for ten days before movement into one of the poly tunnels, and placed on plastic plant pots to aid root formation. Maximum germination (4p per seed) is aimed for.

For Autumn harvesting of cauli/cabbage, the sowing period is in May, planting out is in July after irrigation and growing in poly tunnels. Spring/overwintering seed is sown in August, planted out in October.

Plants grown outside under nets prove to be stronger and more hardy to be sold on after from between 4 to 20 hours irrigation daily.

Producer sucessional plants ready for the customer is appreciated.

Soil hygiene sterilising is very important when sourcing the peat - cabbage root fly, club root, downey mildew etc can cause problems.

Alternative seed plugs for small customers are raised. These are of celeriac, leek, beet, perpetual spinach.

After the farm visit we travelled in the coach to Truro, and for myself, memories of Jeremy Thorpe MP. We boarded the cruiser 'Moyana' for our traditional Cornish pasty, one thick side for dirty hands. The river Truro here is quite shallow in depth as we leave the dominant landmark of Truro cathedral. Moving down the river Fal, passing various sites of interest on the way, including a mussel farm, a National Trust stately home, scrap metal processing, Pendennis dry docks where luxury yachts are built for wealthy retired farmers, said the 'tannoy'. A familiar sight also at Falmouth docks is a jack up oil rig vessel.

When departing 'Moyana' the tannoy said if you enjoyed your cruise down the river Fal, please contribute coins into the traditional collection tin; if not, take some coins out.

During one hour's visit along the harbourside there was an exhibition entitled 'Captain Bligh - myth, the man and mutiny' at the Maritime Museum.

Remembered the Falmouth National Country Link weekend some years ago, when the hotel burnt down sometime after our departure.

Our Sunday farm visit began with a picnic lunch on an organic registered mutton (South Penquite) farm at Blisland Bodmin Moor. A beef and sheep demonstration farm for the Soil Association. E U diversification money has been spent on yurts for tourism at £5,000 a pitch.

From the farm (enclosed) out onto Bodmin Moor where landowners and commoners have rights. Regulated schemes with Natural England apply as regards lifestock numbers and turn out.

From the Moor and back onto the farm conservation area. Walking above a granite quarry, which built Eddison lighthouse, we view archaeological remains of a Neolithic camp site.

Four hundred million years ago, Bodmin Moor was active as a volcano. After passing various sculptures and education boards, we came to rest at what seemed to be an animal pinfold. Awaiting the tractor and trailer for the rest of our journey to the farmstead, it was question and answer time with Martin about his life as a driving instructor, and looking north east we saw the 419m high Brown Willy Mountain (the highest point in Cornwall) and on the Moor. 'I have taken our group up it' said Martin. At the end of the tour, there was the comment 'We have not seen any sheep or cattle!'.

First impressions of Newquay on the north Cornwall coast a notice in the hotel bedroom said 'Please do not feed the gulls' (nesting season on the flat roof below) views out to sea and Fistral Bay. Later, I was to see the surfers and the Quicksilver School of Surfing. Quicksilver - a common name for mercury, a naturally occurring liquid native element in granite the Heurs Castle on the north bay, where fishermen looked out for shoals of pilchard.

Tom Knox
Yorkshire Country Link

See the photographs of the Spring weekend in the gallery →

East Midland Weekend - Skegness

24-26 March 2017

image001.jpgimage003.jpg17 Country Link members travelled to Skegness on Friday, some met in Lincoln for coffee. Walk around the historic town and the castle before leaving for Skegness where the sunshine was waiting and the Savoy hotel. After dinner, some of us went to town for an evening drink and dancing in Wolfies.

image002.jpgimage004.jpg Saturday morning came and the blue skies and a lovely full English breakfast or smoked fish and poached eggs, a lovely start to the day.

Shared cars off to Gibraltar point and our guide Jim, from Lincolnshire Wildlife trust was great, very informative on the marshes, birds and their migration paths, the dunes and the removal of the sperm whales from the beach. Coffee and the suns rays enjoyed by all.

A bit of down time before we took to Arnold Palmer 18 hole crazy golf. David, Marcus and Helen being the winners of their tournament.

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image007.jpgAll back to the hotel for an earlier dinner as we were going to the Embassy Theatre for a night in Nemesis - great evening. Retired back to the Savoy for cheese and biscuits. Marcus brought some local cheese for us to enjoy. Some ventured down to the town for a nightcap and dancing.

image008.jpgSunday morning came as a bit of a shock as the clocks had gone forward. Breakfast full English today, car share and off to Mablethorpe Seal Sanctuary, to meet Donna, Splash and the other seals, plus the gibbons, large rabbits, snakes, goats, eagles and all sorts of creatures.

After coffee and Connect 4, back to car share and to Alford Windmill, where we had a guided tour by Ian, who is passionate about his windmill, where we put the kitchen to test, all lovely.

image011.jpgBack to the cars and 2 minutes down the road to Alford Manor House, the largest thatched house in England. We were split into 2 groups, one for the house and one for the museum at the back, where the chaps greeted us and educated us on all sorts of bits and pieces in the shed. A lovely visit with homemade biscuits and tea in the house to finish off our last visit of the weekend.

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image012.jpgAfter a snooze at hotel and dinner, pub games or the last dance in Skeggy.

Monday came and check-out time, goodbyes and thank you.

Some of us met in Lincoln in the tea room for coffee and a trip around town. The Lincoln Rural Life Museum was a great find; full of history, home of the tank and Michael and Peter, a pair of plough steam engines, and a school room. Back to the car for the last leg to home.

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All home after a long weekend in sunny Skeggy.

Great time.

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

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