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A Journey Around the British Isles … Part 98

One final fact about Edgmond before I cycle into Newport. It is the site of the lowest temperature ever recorded in England. On the tenth of January 1982 the thermometer dropped to minus 26.1. OK so readers in Canada and the USA are blowing out their cheeks to say that such temperatures constitute the arrival of spring. In England, it’s pretty cold. In that same winter, possibly the same night, I’d arranged to meet a friend in a York pub. It was a fifteen minute walk from the youth hostel where I worked. I was pretty well wrapped up but had to go back to my room for two more layers and a scarf. It was minus 19 and the River Ouse froze over. It was rightly cold.

Just why the temperature should drop so low in Shropshire is a mystery to me. I’d expect the lowest temperature to be in Northumberland or on top of Scafell Pike. I don’t suppose they’ve got a weather station on the top of every mountain.

I leave behind Harper Adams University and soon am riding into Newport. I’ve managed 95 miles and though I’d like to get to the hundred, the light is fading and so is my energy. I’ve been surprised by how suddenly I’m in the town centre and youthful gatherings in someone else’s town always look a little forbidding. These groups are probably sharing answers for their maths homework but I’m keen to put up somewhere, get my bicycle locked away and myself into a hot bath.

As happens on these occasions I see all the better places I could have stayed after I’ve booked into the one I shouldn’t have. It’s essentially a pub with some outbuildings converted into en-suite rooms. I’m not sure how many of the rooms are being used by overnight guests but the room directly above mine gets used vigorously for an hour and then goes very quiet. Either the county trampolining championships or someone using a short term booking to develop a short term relationship.

I was signed in over a bar where drinkers hung on every word. It was akin to being told off. Fancy anyone wanting to book into a place that advertised rooms!

“You can only stay for one night.”

“That’s ok. I only want to stay for one night.”

“Breakfast is at eight.”

“Suits me fine.”

I should have taken a walk around the town before committing myself. But, all I really wanted was somewhere to wash, sleep and eat. Now that the bedroom gymnastics had finished upstairs, I had no complaints. I took a quiet walk around the streets and satisfied my hunger with what was on offer. The choice was fish and chips or a kebab. I went for the former and enjoyed them more through hunger than delectation.

I was tired and not really open to the delights of Newport and the town wasn’t putting on a show. A group of teenaged boys were practicing cruder language skills and the smokers clustered around pub doorways counterbalanced the floral tubs and hanging baskets.  I returned to my room, read for half and hour and slept a restful slumber for the rest of the night.

My map ran out at Newport but a previous trip told me that heading for Cheadle would set me up for getting home. I estimated about eighty miles. A long haul, particularly with Staffordshire and the Peak District ahead. I made shorthand notes as this was likely to be my last day and went off to have a proper look at Newport in the brightness of a summer’s morning.

It was an altogether different town. Yesterday evening I saw the gaudy and the unspectacular. This morning I look past the filling station and see a row of Georgian town houses; look past the plate glass shop fronts and see a glorious red sandstone church and a wide high street  and a butter cross. It just goes to show what weariness can do. If I’d left Newport at the crack of dawn I would have remembered a tired and tawdry town. The freshness that daylight had brought showed just how wrong I would have been.

The first rule of looking at a town is to look up. Modern shop fronts are almost universally ugly. Newport may be pleased that it is big enough and strong enough as an independent shopping centre to attract in Boots and Subway, Waitrose and Greggs but it might consider obliging these retailers to fit in with Newport rather than allowing them to alter the flavour of the town. I presume there is research to show that shoppers spend more in shops with gaudy plastic signs and plate glass fronts than in shops that fit in with the architectural integrity of the rest of the building. Newport is by no means a major offender on the ground floor but the commercial frontages have the same affect as allowing Vanessa Feltz to apply make-up to Audrey Tatou. A place of great natural beauty is made to look ordinary.

Looking up you see three storey houses of perfect proportion. The ones that have retained their Georgian glazing bars look a heck of a lot better and the general absence of uPVC windows does much for the town. Away from the shops there are some doorways from the Regency first division.

I’m out before the traffic or the crowds. The Adams Grammar School building fronts one of the better performing schools in the county. If ever there was evidence needed to support the educational maxim of “the right environment and the right attitude” it is on show here.

Fire destroyed much of medieval Newport; the Guildhall remains. Careful eighteenth century re-building has left a fine town. Apart from some grumpy looking sorts clutching rolled up cigarettes in evening doorways, the people seem rather proud of their town. And so they should be. It holds it’s own with any other town in the county. With some wisdom in council planning meetings it could become another Stamford, but maybe the good folk of Newport could do without the television and film companies.

Breakfast is in the bar of the pub. I share the room with some engineers from Birmingham. The television is on and dominates proceedings and what conversation there is is in response to what emanates from there. Police have shot dead a young man called Mark Duggan and it has led to rioting and looting in boroughs all across London. Supposed copycat rioting has broken out in Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. A great deal of moralising is being transmitted  and my fellow breakfasters see a need to bring back both corporal and capital punishment. “Country’s going to the dogs,” says one to general agreement. I keep my thoughts to myself and eat up. The television journalists are presenting the rioting as a state of the nation in crisis. The pictures are dramatic and emotive and are a long way from the country I have been exploring for three weeks. As I ride out of Newport, I can report that the streets are quiet.