Panther Enthusiasts Club UK
20th/21st/22nd May 2011
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This was the Panther weekend that almost never was. The event was centred on The Bell Hotel in the pretty village of Clare. I originally visited the hotel in February to check out its suitability and to reserve rooms. I then made 3 trips to the hotel to recce drives for the weekend and because members were being slow to sign up to the event extended the closing date to confirm the bookings. Finally in early May I paid my last visit prior to the event to provide the names of the people coming and specify the preferred room requirements of the individual couples. I knew from the blank expression on the receptionist's face as I handed over the list that all was not well. "we're full" he said "I know" I said "we've booked all the rooms" "No with a wedding" he said. Don't panic! Don't panic! You can imagine how the conversation went over the next 15 minutes. Between the two of us we had cocked things up. I thought I had made a firm booking and he thought I was just making an enquiry. Fortunately we only needed 7 rooms for the Friday night, which were still available, but there was no way the 10 rooms we wanted for Saturday could be found at The Bell. I was then treated to a free lunch while he rang around all the local hotels to find us rooms for Saturday night. We both breathed a sigh of relief when 10 rooms were found at The George and Dragon in Long Melford. I believe he felt more to blame than I did because he then reduced the price of the Friday night stay, promised free breakfasts to those 3 couples who were coming just for the Saturday and offered to transfer the luggage of all 10 couples to The George and Dragon, on Saturday whilst we were out enjoying the delights of the Suffolk villages and countryside.
No one dropped out because of the change of plans and I'm pleased to say the rescued weekend went ahead without any complaints.
The seven couples were booked in at The Bell for Friday night, Alec & Mary Bradshaw, Dennis & Pauline Power, Terry & Larraine Hockley-Moore, Richard & Shirley Wozniakeiwicz, Roy & Jennifer Biddle, Nigel & Mary Plunkett and Tony & George Ansell (can't really call them a couple more a pair). However, Nigel & Mary had to cancel at the last minute due to bad health. (We hope they sort you out soon Nigel and get you back on an even keel) The three couples joining on Saturday morning were Peter & Leigh Heales, Steve & Sharon Johnson and Colin & Sue Addison.
Folks started arriving early in the afternoon and after enjoying a drink in the bar, were soon settled in their rooms, which apparently are in what was the stables of this old coaching in. Clare is a pretty village well worth a stroll around. There are many old typical Suffolk cottages and grand houses, a huge church and antique shops, but what took Dennis and my attention was a real old hardware shop that smelt of paraffin and other such gorgeous smells. There was so much in this shop that there was hardly any room for customers. Dennis suggested asking for 4 candles, but we decided he'd probably been asked that too many times for it to be funny any more.
On Friday evening the 12 of us met in the bar at 7 for pre-dinner drinks. We may not see each other very often, but when we do it doesn't take us long to "catch up" and it to seem as though we see each other every day.
Dinner was served in the Tudor Room which was ideal for us as we could make as much noise as we liked without fear of upsetting the other guests.
In the winter I imagine there could be a great atmosphere in this room with a log fire in that old fireplace.
Alec almost lost his car to these two old biddies who took a fancy to it.
As usual, wherever we went, the cars created a great deal of attention. Including that of the hotel staff who said we could go but leave the cars behind!
The courtyard behind the hotel reminded several of us of the Hotel Heinz in Vianden, Luxembourg.
By 10:15 on Saturday, the three couples joining us had arrived, had their free breakfast and we were all ready to set off for Kersey and Flatford Mill via the country lanes of Suffolk and Essex. We ambled through the lanes and in spite of having to cross a couple of main roads the 9 cars never lost contact. When I say ambled, I do mean ambled. I must have been going really slowly because there wasn't a single complaint from the passenger seat of my car. Hopefully, even those at the rear of the convoy had time to enjoy the scenery and the picturesque villages we passed through. There are chocolate box cottages everywhere in this part of Suffolk. Our first stop was 20 miles from Clare and I estimated that it would take us 45 minutes around the lanes to get there. It in fact took us 50 minutes to arrive at our destination which was The Bell pub in Kersey (same name different pub).
The pub doesn't normally open until 11:30, but brought the opening time forward to 11:00 in order to fit in with our schedule.
The pictures here show the cars parked in the garden behind the pub. The Bell, like The Bell at Clare is another that has been an inn since the 1500's. Kersey is a charming old village set in a valley with a ford and is full of listed buildings (the village not the ford). It also has the advantage as it is not as well known as say Lavenham.
Pictures of this great old pub and of the ford at the bottom of the High Street follow.
It was arranged that coffee and pastries would be awaiting our arrival. This proved to be very popular and the exclamations of "we'll never eat all those" turned out, I suppose, to be accurate as there was one pastry left.
We spent longer than anticipated at The Bell relaxing in the sunshine, but eventually left the pub crossed the ford and travelled up the hill out of Kersey and were on our way to Flatford Mill. Our route took us through the old town of Hadleigh which in itself is worth a visit. Peter Heales who has recently become a local man and has readily adopted the pessimistic attitude of the yokel, (yum don't wunna do thart) warned me that there was a fete on in Hadleigh and it could take us a while to get through the town. Little did we know how long, the yokel was right after all. We hit the queue on the outskirts of Hadleigh and didn't move. It didn't take us long to decide to cut our losses and give up the idea of going to Flatford Mill. Consequently, we all did a uuee and headed for the next to last place on our Saturday schedule, which was Lavenham. We'll put Flatford Mill behind our ear for later.
Lavenham is a beautiful historic town, the centre of which is full of old picturesque listed buildings. It is also very popular with tourists. The car park was crammed full and it was only by the cheeky use of the Surgery car park (no surgery on Saturday) that we managed to get parked.
However, when we had had our fill of admiring higglety pigglety and wonkey buildings, most of us found ourselves a nice shady spot outside a pub and wiled away the time nattering.
Others took the opportunity to do a bit of house and antique hunting. The antique hunting was successful, I'm not sure about the house hunting.
People were free to spend as short or as long a time in Lavenham as they wished and make their own way back the short journey to Long Melford and our final destination of the day, The George and Dragon.
Driving over for the day we were able to indulge ourselves with a few alcoholic drinks in the garden behind the hotel. Both the hotels were fine. The bar area of The Bell at Clare was more welcoming than that of The George and Dragon, and the galleried access to the rooms more picturesque, but the rooms although clean and well equipped, were cold and gloomy. The bar area in The George and Dragon was unattractive and no two rooms were the same. I believe they were all clean and habitable, but in contrast to The Bell some were too hot. Our bedroom was vast but there were changes in level everywhere a step up here a step down there. You really should not move around in the dark!
Both hotels provided good food and were extremely good value for money. The only complaint about the food at The Bell was that the portions were too big! The Bell charged £110 per night per couple for DBB and you could choose anything from the menu, including sirloin steak. The George and Dragon had a three choice menu. Once again the food was very good and the stay was even better value at £89 for DBB per couple.
These pictures show us all at dinner Saturday evening. The bar may have looked like the public bar of any old high street pub, but the food and presentation were much better than expected. We even had cloth napkins would you believe. They also took the trouble to provide menus with "The Panther Enthusiasts Club" fancy heading, which was a nice touch. In spite of appearances Peter and Leigh were not the bride and groom at the head of the table.
This photo is just to prove I was there with Jennifer!
There is something wrong with the flash on my camera, consequently if you moved whilst I was taking a picture you're blurred. Serves you right for not paying attention.
It was planned that Sunday we would drive to Finchingfield, spend about an hour there and then go on to Thaxted to have lunch and take our farewells. However, the big breakfast we all consumed at The George and Dragon that morning put several people off having lunch as well that day. So many in fact that I rang up and cancelled our booking at the Thaxted restaurant. Sunday's weather was nowhere near as nice as Saturday's, it was very windy and the sun only came out every now and then. Still it was dry and our hoods stayed down. As we drove through Cavendish on our way to Finchingfield, there was a Classic car rally at one one the pubs there. The cars were virtually all Austin Healy 3000's, but I did see one Daimler Dart and a few non sports car classics. We'll keep and eye open for that event for perhaps future use.
We drove on to Finchampstead via the country lanes and on arrival parked where you could. If you saw a space you grabbed it. Finchhampstead is another of those places that is very popular, especially with bikers. One thing I noticed about the bikers is that none of them were young! What is it with them - mid life crisis?
As well as the bikers and us there was a Dutch club in their MGB's visiting Finchingfield on Sunday.
At this point Jennifer and I had to desert everyone. Jennifer has not been having a good time recently healthwise and by the time we reached Finchingfield she had had enough and we had to take our leave and head for home. Terry & Larraine, Steve & Sharon and Tony & George then drove on to Thaxted as originally planned and the remainder like Jen and I headed for home.
All I can do is thank you all for coming and making it an enjoyable occasion. Getting together like this re-kindles your enthusiasm for Panthering and makes you realise how much you would miss it. We hope the difficulties Jen and I experienced over the weekend didn't spoil your enjoyment.
Also my thanks go to Alec for providing most of the photographs shown in this web page. Shirley I know you took interesting one of the cars crossing the ford in Kersey. Any chance of sending me that one?
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