Breakfast at Shellys in Cheshire

“BREAKFAST LIKE A KING; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper”. This popular saying emphasizes the importance of breakfast amongst the meals partaken during the 24 hours of a day. We spent three nights in Widnes (Cheshire) in July (2022), and wanted to enjoy a decent breakfast. A search of Google revealed that the best-rated place for breakfast was Shelly’s Café located close to Harrison Street, a small road leading off the larger Hale Road.

Shelleys café

There is a sign (for Shellys) with an arrow at the corner of Harrison Street and an unnamed short road with a badly damaged surface. This side road, which is lined on one side by dust-covered parked vehicles, some with flat tyres, leads to a pair of large metal gates, which were closed when we arrived. A key-pad next to the gates allows one to ring Shelley’s. When answered, the gates open slowly. We drove through them into a secure industrial area. This contains several buildings, some of which are warehouses and others factories (including several ice-cream manufacturers). In between the buildings, there are numerous parked cars, vans, and caravans. Most of them are old models covered with a thick layer of dust. We learned that some of them have been standing unused for a year or longer.

Shellys Café is housed in a single-storey wooden shack, adorned with pots of flowers, next to the electrically operated entrance gates. It has large windows and there were chairs and tables outside. The interior is simply decorated with a few wall plaques relating to the joys of riding motorcycles. Two large blackboards list what is on offer. One corner of the building is occupied by a spacious kitchen where Shelley and her husband prepare customers’ orders.  On each of the three mornings we ate at Shellys, we sat beneath a photograph of Marilyn Monroe.  The café had other framed photographs of film stars.

Everything we ordered was delicious. The fried items (including eggs, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms, sausages, hash browns, and tomatoes) were tasty and totally free of grease. What is on offer at Shellys is basic and unpretentious, but well-prepared. Given that this place is rated the best for breakfast in the Widnes area, it is remarkably good value. Were it nearer our home in London, I am sure that we would drive out to eat there, despite the industrial nature of its location.

Up and down Molesworth Street

YOU CAN BYPASS the small town of Wadebridge in Cornwall by speeding along the A39 road, which extends from Bath in Somerset to Falmouth in Cornwall, but that would be a pity because it is a charming town. Wadebridge thrives because of its fine bridge across the River Camel. The great writer Daniel Defoe (c1660-1731) wrote about the town and nearby Padstow in his “A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain”, published 1724-26, as follows:

“Padstow is a large town, and stands on a very good harbour for such shipping as use that coast, that is to say, for the Irish trade. The harbour is the mouth of the river Camel or Camal, which rising at Camelford, runs down by Bodmyn to Wodbridge or Wardbridge [sic], a large stone bridge of eight arches, or thereabouts, built by the general goodwill of the country gentlemen; the passage of the river there, before, being very dangerous, and having been the loss of some lives, as well as goods…”

Defoe noted that the passage from Wadebridge to Ireland via Padstow could be achieved in 24 hours. Thus, Wadebridge and its river crossing, now much widened since Defoe’s time, was an important stage for vehicles carrying passengers and goods between England and Ireland. The route for this transport would have been to first cross over the Camel on the bridge and then to proceed north westwards up the slope of Wadebridge’s then main thoroughfare, Molesworth Street. During daylight hours, most of this road is closed to motorised vehicles and provides a pleasant pedestrian precinct.

Molesworth Street is lined with shops, eateries, and some pubs. The Molesworth Arms, a former coaching inn, has existed since the 16th century. It was previously known by other names including The Fox, The King’s Arms and The Fountain. It got its present name in 1817. Nearer the bridge, there is The Swan Hotel near the old bridge, originally named ‘The Commercial’, is much newer than the Molesworth Arms. It was constructed the late 19th century.

I cannot explain why, but spending time on Molesworth Street always satisfies me. The recently opened (late 2021) Dollies café provides good coffee and exceptionally wonderful English breakfast items; everything is prepared freshly after ordering. Up the hill, stands Churchill Bars. Housed in the premises of the still functioning Wadebridge Conservative Club, it comprises a bar and a small restaurant named Winston’s. Popular with locals, this eatery serves generous helpings of lovingly prepared, tasty food. Its speciality, which is well worth trying, is roast belly pork served with roast potatoes, gravy, and vegetables (not overcooked). Unlike so many other places serving food in Cornwall, this place is good value and not pretentious.

Apart from several charity shops, a good newsagent, two butcher’s shops, a hardware store, banks, and so on, there is a small bookshop on Molesworth Street. This independent bookstore stocks a superb range of Cornwall-related books, both fiction and non-fiction. In a backroom, there is a large selection of second-hand books. Small booksellers such as this one on Molesworth Street make a welcome change from the countrywide bookshops such as Daunt’s, Waterstone’s, and WH Smiith’s.

Not as ‘trendy. as places such as Fowey, Falmouth, St Ives, and Padstow, Wadebridge seems a more ‘normal’ or ‘real’ kind of place, not wholly dependent on tourism. It is well placed to make excursions to places all over the county of Cornwall.

Breakfast with Samuel Pepys in Salisbury

THE BOSTON TEA Party in Salisbury’s High Street serves great coffee and tasty breakfast dishes. It is housed in the premises of what used to be The Old George Inn. This hostelry is in a building, whose construction is said to have begun in the 14th century. Most of the older part of the former tavern straddles a pedestrian footway leading from the High Street to a modern shopping mall and its associated multi-storied car park.

The entrance to The Boston Tea Party is via a shop beneath a building that looks newer than the older looking half-timbered edifice straddling the passageway mentioned above. A staircase leads to a dining area above the shop, which is where we enjoyed breakfast one morning in March 2022. This room has a decoratively patterned plaster ceiling and the remains of an old inscription in gothic script. As we were leaving, I saw a notice that advised customers that if the section, where we ate, was closed, customers should proceed up to the ‘Great Hall’. I was intrigued.

The Great Hall is one of the historical marvels of the city of Salisbury.  Its ceiling is supported by beams cut from old ships’ timbers. The Inn has been rebuilt several times. However, the beams that exist today include wood from trees that were felled in the mid-15th   century (www.buildingconservation.com/articles/george/inn_conservation.htm). Some of the walls are covered with wood panelling decorated with carvings and there are at least two elaborately carved wooden fireplace surrounds. Other decorative features include plasterwork covered with intricate bas-relief designs, and a lovely bow window overlooking the High Street. The hall is overlooked by a gallery with a balustrade. There is also a window with stained glass that includes a depiction of a royal coat-of-arms and the name of a king, probably Edward VI, who reigned from 1547 until 1553. According to the historicengland.org.uk website:

“On lst floor the south room has early C17 plaster work friezes on beams and carved wood overmantel. Projecting to east on north side open hall through 2 storeys. C15 hammerbeam roof, arched braces to collars. Heavy scissor bracing visible on 2nd floor lath decorated wall plates and spandrels. 2 rooms with tie beams and kingposts with 4-way struts.”

Over the centuries, The Old George Inn has had many visitors including William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys, and Charles Dickens. It is believed that Shakespeare and his players, whilst on their way to Wilton, rehearsed “As You Like It” in the garden of the inn. Samuel Pepys spent one night at the inn but moved to another after having argued with the innkeeper over his bill.

Once upon a time, the Great Hall of the Old George Inn would have been filled with guests enjoying tankards of beer and ale and hearty meals. Today, in its reincarnation as The Boston Tea Party, the place is bustling with customers drinking cappuccinos and chai lattes as the consume trendy delicacies such as poached eggs on smashed avocado and ‘The Vegan Boss’. Whether or not you are thirsty or hungry, a visit to the Great Hall is a ‘must’ before or after you have viewed the cathedral.

Piling it on along the canal

NEEDING BREAKFAST ON our way from Warwick to visit Baddesley Clinton House, we chose to stop at the Hatton Locks Café, which we had noticed on our road map. What we did not know is that the café is located next to the uppermost of a flight (or series) of 21 canal locks. The locks are situated on a stretch of the Grand Union Canal that was, when it opened in 1799, the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, which was built to carry locally mined coal for use in power stations and nearby factories (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-history/history-features-and-articles/the-history-of-hatton-locks). It became an important transportation link between London and The Midlands.

 The 21 locks are spread along an almost 2 mile stretch of the canal and the towpath along this section of the waterway is popular with cyclists, walkers, and their dogs. Some of the locks are narrow. They were built when the canal was first constructed. Other locks on the flight are far wider. They were built in 1932 and allow two craft to use the lock simultaneously. The newer locks were built at a time when the canal system began to have to compete with motorised road and rail transport.

The café is about 310 yards northwest of a small car park and is reached by walking along the towpath. Near the café, there are some unusual looking tables and benches made of old timber. Most of the timber pieces are planks with a short semi-circular projection at one end. These wooden piles used to be driven into the floor of the canal between parallel wooden blocks that held them straight upright against the walls of the waterway. Their purpose was to prevent the banks of the canal from being eroded by the water flowing past them. Nowadays, they have been replaced by coir matting that serves the same purpose because it is considered to be more eco-friendly that timber. The wooden piles were driven into place by a mechanised hammer system aboard a motorised boat that plied along the canal. One of these boats, now disused, has been preserved near the café.

The locks on the Hatton Flight looked different from the many other canal locks we have seen on our travels around the country. Each lock is flanked by what looks like a pair of tall, stout candles. These things house the mechanisms that control the flow of water into the locks and are operated by canal users equipped with a special handle or windlass that fits onto a projection that is linked to the gearing that operates the valve.

The Hatton Locks Café is a real treat, both visually and gastronomically. Both inside and outside, it is decorated with a profusion of objects, some folkloric, some whimsical, and others related to the life and traditions on the canal. A team of friendly workers produce simple but excellently prepared English breakfast items as well as very acceptable coffees. So good was our breakfast that we made a detour to return to this place on the following morning. Most of the clientele seemed to be locals, many of whom were on friendly terms with the staff. Although we had only been once before on a busy morning, the staff remembered exactly what we ate and drank on the day before. When we are next nearby, we shall certainly visit this wonderful establishment again. On our next visit, we will join the other walkers and stroll past all the 21 locks.

Cured by the sun

eggs with meat in cooking pan

 

For several years in the 1970s, I used to visit my friends Robert and Margaret while they were spending summer camping near to Platamon on the Aegean coast of Greece. 

Every morning at Platamon began with a ritual. Before we were allowed to eat breakfast, we had to take a dip in the sea. This was no hardship; it was quite an enjoyable way to wake up. Washing in the sea was the only form of bathing possible at our camp in Platamon; there was no bathroom in the caravan. Robert and Margaret, who used to spend at least 6 weeks there, did not shower or bath in anything but sea water at Platamon. Robert was not worried by this, but after a while Margaret began to miss the daily soaks in a hot bath, which she enjoyed at home.

Breakfast at Platamon resembled that at my friends’ home. It consisted of a cup of tea, bread with home-made marmalade, scrambled egg, and a minute slice of sliced bacon. In 1975, and for a few years after, my friends travelled without a refrigerator. Butter was stored in a moistened terracotta container. The evaporating water kept the butter inside it cool. My friends carried a whole side of smoked bacon from England. This was not refrigerated in any way, but somehow remained more or less fresh enough to be edible. It was kept swathed in white muslin. When needed, it was unwrapped, and Robert used to cut little bits off it using one of his folding French Opinel knives.

I remember once that he spotted that part of the surface of the bacon was going green. I asked him what he was going to do about it. Without replying, he began scraping the mould of the unwrapped chunk of bacon, and then placed the ‘naked’ meat onto the Land Rover’s roof rack, saying to me:

 “The ultraviolet rays from the sun will disinfect the bacon.”

 

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