Tag Archives: The Great North Road

Newark-on-Trent, Roman Roads and Polish War Heroes

Newark Church

My friend Dai Woosnam often chastises me for being too eager to jump on a plane and fly to Europe when there are so many places in England that I have so far neglected to visit.  He is astonished for example that I have never been to the city of Bath and to be honest I am astonished myself that I have never visited the city of Bath.

My excuse for not visiting Bath is that it is two hundred miles away but I have no good reason not to have visited the town of Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire which is about thirty miles away and I bypass it regularly as I drive to visit my family in Derbyshire.  I have often stated my intention to go but just never got around to it.

Then suddenly one sunny morning I decided that I would do it because for some time I have wanted to visit the National Civil War Museum and the market town with a manufacturing and transport heritage which also has a ruined castle and a long and interesting history.  All of the things that I like.

Newark Market Place

My visit began with a walk around the main square which today was host to the weekly Saturday market which was busy and vibrant and I scratched my head in disbelief that I had never been to this fine place with an eclectic mix of medieval, Georgian and modern buildings almost as though York meets Cheltenham meets Coventry.

The town has always been geographically important because it sits at the crossroads of the Great North Road (the A1) and the Fosse Way (A46) and provided an important crossing point over the River Trent.  It is almost certain that there was a Roman garrison here but here is no archaeological evidence of that because the whole of the Trent Valley has always been subject to severe flooding and anything the Romans left behind will almost certainly be at the bottom of the North Sea.

A Roman service area on the Fosse Way…

Fosse Way Service Station

To measure the importance of a place I like to see how far the name has travelled and in the USA for example sixteen states have their own Newark – Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Vermont.

I may have mentioned before that I am not an enthusiastic shopper so I moved on.  Close to the Market is the  Church of St Mary Magadalene, one of the largest in the County and notable for the tower and the octagonal spire which at two hundred and thirty six feet is the highest in Nottinghamshire and claimed to be the fifth tallest in the United Kingdom.

Newark Church Exterior

As I explored the various areas of the church looking at the usual things that you do in a religious house I came across an interesting memorial stone laid into the floor of the nave…

Władysław Sikorski

Who was General Władysław Sikorski I wondered and what was he doing here in Newark-on-Trent?

It turns out that he was a very important man indeed.  During the Second World War, Sikorski was Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile in London and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces.

Wladyslaw Sikorski

In July 1943 he made a visit to Polish troops in North Africa but on his return the plane carrying him tragically plunged into the sea immediately after take off from Gibraltar, killing all on board except the pilot. The exact circumstances of Sikorski’s death remain unclear, continue to be disputed and have given rise to a number of different theories surrounding the crash and his death including sabotage and assassination.  Sikorski had been the most important leader of the Polish exiles and his death was a severe setback for the Polish cause.

His body was returned to England and Sikorski was buried in a brick-lined grave at the Polish War Cemetery at Newark-on-Trent.

Why Newark-on Trent? Well, during the Second World War there were a number of RAF stations within a few miles of Newark from many of which operated squadrons of the Polish Air Force. A special plot was set aside in Newark Cemetery for airmen burials and this is now the war graves plot where all of the three hundred and ninety-seven Polish RAF caualties and burials were made.

According to Wiki – A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution. By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF”

It is a shame that certain sections of English society make such a negative fuss about Polish immigrants today.

In accordance with his wishes General Sikorski’s remains were returned to Poland in 1993 to the royal crypts at Wawel Castle in Kraków but there is still a memorial to him at Newark.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Next time in Newark I am at the National Civil War Museum and the Castle.

North Yorkshire – Wensleydale

Yorkshire Postcard

At school holiday time there is always the threat of an extended visit from the grandchildren which can be a stressful experience as they spend a week dismantling the house and trashing the garden.

Since 2011 I have lived in the east coast town of Grimsby and every so when they visit it is my job to arrange entertainment.  This can be a challenge because to be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Grimsby

I like the town but it has to be said that it is an odd place.  It is a community in decline.  On the south bank of the Humber Estuary it is so far east that the only place to go after this is the North Sea and there aren’t any ferries to Europe as there are in Hull on the north side of the river.  It is a dead end.  It is a place that you only go to by choice.  No one visits Grimsby by accident.  You cannot stumble upon it while taking a leisurely drive along the coast as say in Northumberland or East Anglia.  It can never be an unexpected discovery.

This year I decided to rent a holiday cottage elsewhere and let them trash someone else’s place instead.  I chose a cottage in the village of Thornton Stewart in North Yorkshire and drove there one busy Friday afternoon along the A1 – The Great North Road, which many people claim is the only good thing that comes out of London.

729127

The A1 route used to be a real chore with inevitable traffic jams and frequent hold-ups but recent investment has seen it upgraded to a three lane motorway which in theory should make it much easier to drive.  Unfortunately, what happens when a road is improved like this is that lots of extra traffic decides to use it so after a very short time the original problem is back again and so it was on this particular day and the journey took far longer than anticipated.

The village of Thornton Stewart is in Wensleydale (one of only a few Yorkshire Dales not currently named after its principal river) and it was immediately obvious that it was rather remote with no local facilities so it was lucky that I had had the foresight to pack food provisions and a few bottles of wine.  And it was severely challenged when it came to communications as well with no Wifi and no useable telephone signal either.  Only forty miles from Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle and no phone signal!

Thornton Stewart Yorkshire

Never mind, we unpacked, picked our bedrooms, Sally and the children rearranged their room in the way that they like it – rather like Belgium after the German Panzer division had passed through on the way to France in 1939 and then we explored the garden and settled down for the evening.

The next morning we planned to drive a route along Wensleydale as far as Hawes in the west and set off early and stopped first at Aysgarth Falls about half way along the route.  Aysgarth Falls is a natural beauty spot where thousands of gallons of water in the River Ure tumble, leap and cascade over a series of boulders and broad limestone steps.  It was featured as the location for the fight between Robin Hood and Little John in the film ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ and in 2005 it was included in a BBC television list of seven best natural places in Northern England.  The other six were The Lake District, River Wear, Whin Sill, River Tees, Holy Island and Morecambe Bay.

I had visited Aysgarth Falls before, around about twenty years ago with my children…

Aysgarth Falls 1997

And now I was back with my grandchildren…

Aysgarth Falls North Yorkshire

After Aysgarth we continued to Hawes which was swarming with visitors, too many visitors to make it a comfortable experience and unable to find a parking spot we just carried on to the Hawes creamery factory which is the only place in Wensleydale that continues to make the famous Yorkshire cheese.  A few years ago the owners tried to close it down and move production to next door Lancashire but no self respecting Yorkshire man or woman would allow that to happen – make Yorkshire cheese in Lancashire, whatever next! – so after a management buy-out the staff resumed production for themselves.

For a modest fee it was possible to visit the factory and a small museum and an inevitable shop where we overspent on dairy products described sometime before by T S Eliot as the “Mozart of Cheeses”, with a variety of unlikely ingredients – ginger, pineapple, blueberries etc.

Aysgarth Yorkshire

On account of just how busy it was we declined to stop in Hawes and drove back instead to Castle Bolton where there is a magnificent castle where Mary Queen of Scots was once imprisoned with tall walls, crenulated battlements and expansive views over the Dales but admission was quite expensive and not certain that the children would appreciate the visit we decided against it and after we had gate-crashed the gardens without a ticket we drove back to the cottage stopping briefly in the town of Leyburn for some grocery supplies.

I had visited Castle Bolton before, around about twenty years ago with my children…

Castle Bolton 1997

And now I was back with my grandchildren…

Castle Bolton Yorkshire