We are usually boringly unsociable on New Year's Eve, but this year we travelled to Shropshire for the New Year's Eve wedding of some friends of ours. We decided to make a couple of days of it, and stayed in a very grand Bed and Breakfast place on the Estate where the wedding was being held. This isn't the kind of Estate that we are used to (with tower blocks and urban decay), but the big, posh kind with avenues of trees, grazing sheep, a huge house and acres of farmland. We live right next to a fairly busy main road, so we're never without the growl and roar of traffic, but for two days, the silence was only broken by pheasants, sheep and calling crows.
On our first night, we walked down the drive through the parkland to wait for a lift from our friends to go for dinner. We took the world's most feeble torch with us, and quickly realised that it wasn't going to make any kind of impact on the inky blackness of the night. We gazed up at the stars in awe and delight, and tried not to trip over any sheep. Living in light-polluted Birmingham for more than a year now, we've almost forgotten what the stars look like. We also started to slightly regret having watched so many of the M. R. James ghost stories over Christmas. When Mr. Bsag said that he thought he'd seen a figure at the window of the gatehouse at the end of the drive, it gave me the shivers.
The wedding wasn't until late afternoon on New Year's Eve, so we took the opportunity to go for a brisk walk up to the Stiperstones in the morning. It was wet and wild and windy, and it blew the Christmas cobwebs away brilliantly. Afterwards we warmed ourselves by the log fire in the Stiperstones Inn and watched the pub cat, Skittles, go through a series of extraordinary yoga poses in an effort to maximise the surface area being roasted by the fire. There are few things more relaxing than watching a snoozing cat. Then we had to race back and make a lightning change from wet and muddy waterproofs and walking boots into smart wedding clothes. The wedding itself was wonderful, and a lovely end to our stay.
The trip had one final mystery. When I opened the curtains in the morning to enjoy the superb view over the Estate, I saw a sheep grazing on the lawn immediately in front of our window. Nothing strange about that, you might think, but the garden was surrounded by a deep Ha-Ha1 (which also had an electric fence on the bank for good measure), and the only entrances were defended by cattle grids. I have no idea how this particular sheep managed to breach the defences, but I imagined all kinds of exciting pre-dawn Mission Impossible (or perhaps Shaun the Sheep) type manoeuvres going on while we slept. That lawn grass must have been pretty tempting.
1 As it happens, this was the first (and probably the last) time that I've ever stayed the night in a house with a Ha-Ha. It was quite an exciting moment.