Most people will not know this but the wife and I are on, what some would call, a weird kind of quest. We are intending to visit every racecourse in England. Its not that we are big gamblers or even like horses particularly (we don’t) we just like the spectacle of it and the colour and noise. Of course whilst we are at a racecourse we do have a bet on the races but its never usually much, £5 or £10 only. If we win the bet we are overjoyed but if we lose we are not particularly bothered. Having a bet on the race gives us an interest in the actual race and its outcome. But as I say, win or lose its still the same thrill watching ‘our’ horse.
Going to a race meeting also means travelling away from home for a few days and that is as much a part of the fun as anything else. We get to see other beautiful, interesting and different parts of the country. There are a surprisingly large number of official racetracks in England. In total (including flat and jumps racing) there are 51 spread fairly evenly all over the country. You can find a full list on Wikepedia. The furthest track South is at Newton Abbot in Devon and the furthest track North is in Newcastle, Tyne and Wear. The track at Newton Abbot is the closest to where we live (Penzance) although it is almost the same distance from here to another track at Exeter. So far on our ‘mission’ we have only managed 13 tracks in total so still another 38 to go!
Hopefully once we get to retirement age (not long now!) we will have more time to spare and should be able to knock them all off eventually and pass the ‘winning post’.
On our latest trip, last weekend, we had booked a few days at a Pontins up near Weston-Super-Mare and a night in Bath in a B & B. We had tickets for the race meeting at Wincanton. We had a great few days and even managed to win a few quid at the track. If you ever have the idea of having a few days in a chalet at Pontins DO NOT do it even if, like us, you can get get it a bit cheaper after collecting those bloody coupons in the Sun. Honestly the one we stayed at Brean was the worst place we have ever stayed. We absolutely love Caravan parks as that type of holiday reminds me of the fantastic holidays we had as kids. We have probably been to 10 or 15 caravan parks all over the Southwest all of which have been absolutely brilliant. The parks we have been to before have been clean and tidy, well equipped and the staff have have been lovely and friendly. Sadly at Pontins this is not the case. The chalets are absolutely filthy (we asked to be moved from a disgusting one and we went to a slightly less disgusting one) , have very badly maintained appliances, furniture you only normally see in a skip and the TV’s they have in them stopped being made in 1990 (that is a fact). The whole park is in a terrible state and its sad to see as I always thought of Pontins as one of the major players. They aren’t anymore. Laughingly they had security controlling the entrance gates. As if any one would try to come in to that dump who wasn’t actually staying there. I thought the security was more likely there to keep us in like in a concentration camp! Don’t go to Pontins EVER. The only highlight of our stay there was our day at the races at Wincanton.
After our adventures at Pontins we went up to Bath and stayed in a lovely B & B just out of town. During the day we went on one of those open top buses that take you on a tour of the City. It was interesting commentary and it was nice to see some of the architecture from the top of a bus but they charged us £15 EACH for a one hour ride. I think that’s taking the piss a bit! Maybe if you were a Japanese or American tourist it wouldn’t bother you but it does seem like a lot of money to me. Anyway the missus didn’t care because as soon as we got off the bus she found her way to the shoppers paradise that is Primark. Of course I didn’t go in, I preferred to sit out in the rain on a bench for an hour with a takeaway cup of tea rather that be dragged round a massive clothes shop and being asked every five minutes “do you like this one?..”. Bollocks to that. I’d rather sit outside and watch the tramps, beggars, winos and weirdos along with the Japanese tourists trying to shelter from the liquid sunshine coming from the sky.
After leaving Bath in the morning we set off for home. I had estimated the journey would take about three hours but I hadn’t accounted for a couple of road closures due to an accident on one route and some Sunday roadworks on another. The journey was due to be be pretty straightforward but due to the problems already mentioned I had to rely on the sat nav to get us home. Of course the sat-nav-lady is such a smart arse bitch that the route home, although complicated, was just a case of following her staccato instructions.
Because our route home was quite ‘off piste’ we ended up going through towns and villages that I had never been to. It was actually quite nice to see other places some of which were quite picturesque. On our journey we went through a village called Rodney Stoke. As we went through I noticed that the sign welcoming people into the village actually said “Rodney Stoke, a Thankful village”. I had never seen anything like that on a village sign before.
What was that about I thought and I was puzzling over it still half an hour later when we we went through a village called Shapwick. Unbelievably the sign on entering the village said ” Welcome to Shapwick, a Thankful village”. There was also a sign pointing to a church and the Thankful Village Memorial.
Two villages half an hour apart and about 30 miles apart both with the same mysterious message on the village entrance sign. How weird and puzzling and interesting. The word memorial on the second sign was a clue and I vaguely remembered reading something ages ago about the first world war and Thankful villages. I couldn’t wait to get home and solve the mystery.When we eventually got home I was straight on the computer and onto Wikipedia.
The term Thankful village does indeed refer to the First World War. When the war was on all of the able bodied men of each village went off to fight in the war and there was terrible carnage and unprecedented massive loss of life. Unbelievably there were 51 (out of about 15,000) villages in England & Wales where ALL of the men that went off to war came home again afterwards. There is a page on Wikipedia which lists them all and interestingly, of the 51 villages listed 8 of them are in Somerset (which we were driving through for quite a while), and I have now seen two off them. There is only one in Cornwall, Herodsfoot. Even more incredibly there are 14 villages where all the men came home from both the first and second world wars. Herodsfoot is one of those. The Thankful villages are fairly evenly spread throughout England & Wales (there are NONE in Ireland or Scotland). For example there is one not far from Milton Keynes where my Mum used to live. It is called Stoke Hammond.