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Needlemakers Holiday, Bath September 2017

Needlemakers holiday

Sunday Sept 3rd saw the start of the visit to Bath. At 6.30 pm plenty of sparkling wine was served to the 49 thirsty Needlemakers gathered in the lower ground floor bar of the Francis Hotel. This was after a fairly chaotic journey in the hotel lift. Like the Grand Old Duke of York, when it was up it was up but when it went down it went up again - it yo-yo-ed from floor to floor in a haphazard fashion. There was a similarly chaotic situation ensuring that we were each served the appropriate pre-ordered dinner. Colin Finch was drummed in to deputise for Liz ( who must have been losing her cool as well as her voice) persuading people to put their hands up for chicken then for fish. Eventually everyone was happily served and we had the usual jolly Needlemakers evening.

Monday Sept 4th. Lacock day. About a 35 minutes drive into the Wiltshire countryside which looked lovely - leaves on trees just beginning to turn. We wandered around the Abbey Gardens before the house itself was open - it's amazing how a large group of quite noisy Needlemakers can get dispersed! The Abbey cloisters were being used for filming and there were huge marquees and noisy generators on the lawns. Poor Liz hadn't been told aboutthis until the last minute but it really didn't spoil our visit. We had coffee in the new Courtyard Cafe - so new that it hadn't really got its act together but we welcomed a long sit-down.

The village is an enchanting time-warp and its buildings are fascinating. AND it was such a pleasant day that most of us were able to eat our lunches outside at various locations. Martin, our excellent coach driver, drove us back through Corsham and told us about the secret WW 2 underground weapons store that was linked to the GWR in a tunnel.

Dinner in the evening was at Hall and Woodhouse restaurant across Queen Square from the hotel. An unusual and extremely attractive ex-auction house on 2 floors with a spectacular staircase. Good food too!

On Tuesday Sept 5th Liz led a group of us ( about 20 people ) across town ( unerringly reading her map!) where there was a wonderful exhibition of modern tapestries. The permanent collection is lovely too and this is definitely a place I'd like to go back to.

At 12.50 we were all back on the coach again for our trip to Highgrove. We got there early so Martin obligingly gave us a little tour of Tetbury first. The entrance to Highgrove is quite modest and then there is a long drive through well-kept farmland and a warm, if very security-conscious, welcome to the Orchard House Visitor Centre. We were divided into 2 groups and then sub-divided so there were about 12 people with each guide. Liz had suggested gum boots but unfortunately I hadn't taken her seriously! The heavens opened, it POURED with rain and was quite muddy and puddley under-foot. The tour of the garden took 2 hours - it's not THAT big but of course we had to stop to be told things quite frequently. It's very whimsical ( our guide's favourite word ) and typically Prince Charles - not a bit "Capability Brown"). It is sub-divided into "rooms" and themes. The little follies were mostly made of wood from fallentrees on the estate and rather "homespun". One is a sort of cross between a garden shed and a chapel which Prince Charles uses as his "sanctuary". We also saw some nice-looking cows and Brian Hatfield saw Camilla's horse at the stables!

We had a splendid champagne and cream tea in the Orchard House - beautifully served and welcoming. We had time to browse in the well-stocked shop and we were also GIVEN souvenir engraved glass candle holders and a glossy guide book.

In the evening, we could choose our own restaurant. David and I went to Martini's ( excellent Italian place renowned for its fish) in George Street. Christine Flintham chose this and both Fradds - Simon as well as Liz- were in the group.

On Wednesday Sept 6th we travelled about an hour by coach to Bruton in Somerset. As usual, Martin gave us a running commentary and we heard about the old coal-mining industry based in Radstock which was en route. We arrived at Hauser and Wirth Art Gallery and Garden at about 10.30. There we were divided into 2 groups for guided tours of the current exhibition by the American artist Rashid Johnson. His work needed a bit of explaining but the architecture and the gardens could really speak for themselves. The garden ( only 2 years old!) had been designed by the landscaper who made New York's Skyline Garden - great blocks of colour and clumps of graceful waving grasses. Slowly we meandered to the extraordinary balloon-like pavilion at the topof the slope. We were then able to look back to see properlythe clever modern extensions made to the original old C18th stone farm buildings. Wells Cathedral had inspired the stark and simple concrete columns making the cloisters. Several architecture prizes had been won. The Pavilion, made of fibre glass, had been erected originally at the Serpentine Gallery in London's Hyde Park.

Lunch was at Roths which runs the food side of the place. 3 substantial courses were served fairly informally from dishes in the centre of the long tables. The decor and food were in the modern "shabby-chic" mode but the way the food was served reminded me of the way the dining table had been laid for Henry Fox Talbot and friends at Lacock Abbey.

On our return journey, Martin drove us through the pleasant market town of Frome.

Evening meal ( as if we needed it!) was "own choice" and preceded by farewell drinks hosted by the Master in the ground-floor bar.

David and I were sorry that we were unable to attend the visit on Thursday, Sept 7th to Bath's famous Fashion Museum but we did note that it stuck really to a Needlemakers' theme. The whole of the visit to Bath had been so well co-ordinated and planned to the last detail.

Carolyn Ezekiel