The sun was shining. Why spend a Saturday indoors when you could be outside, visiting a National Trust property? Visiting Whipsnade or even London Zoo or any of the attractions in and around Milton Keynes and the adjacent counties? We had looked in the National Trust handbook and on-line at their website and decided on Calke Abbey, which we had intended visiting a while ago and had given up on the journey up the M1 as it was in the middle of being widened or some other roadworks on it's length for I don't know how many miles going north from Milton Keynes and junction 14 on. We left home at around 9.30 a.m., having filled up with petrol at our usual Shell station in Grafton Street. We got on the motorway and the journey wasn't too bad but the confounded roadworks we eventually met meant we could only travel at 50 m.p.h. I don't know why they have to have these coned-off sections or why you have to drive so slowly and at one point along what would have been the hard shoulder. It really put a damper on the day's outing. We came off the motorway at junction 23 and headed for Calke Abbey and Ashby de la Zouche. Infact, it turned out to be not far from Twycross Zoo, which we visited a few months ago (see earlier blog post for details.) We arrived at Calke Abbey to discover the carpark overflowing. You drive in through a very attractive avenue of trees and through a park with sheep in it and at one point these sheep were laying down in the shade of the trees and one sheep in particular looked as if it might be dead rather than asleep and almost in the path of our car and others who followed into the carpark. We had to get a timed ticket in order to visit the house (it is to prevent too many people walking around at once.) Our time slot was at 1.45 which gave us time enough to have a drink and a sandwich in the very nice restaurant (there are actually two, as we discovered.) as well as browsing in the shop and then watching a video about Calke Abbey. I think it was actually a video of a television programme from a series that has been shown on the Sky Arts channel on National Trust properties and narrated by Martin Jarvis. I'd know his voice anywhere as he seems to make a living doing voice-overs and narrating books on B.B.C. Radio 4 Extra. We'd seen a couple of these documentaries and saw one on Waddesdon and another on Stourhead, two places we've visited at one time or other over the years. We wandered around the gardens, very beautifully kept, with attractive flower beds and all the rest and then wandered into the house. I'm not sure whether I liked it as much as some places we've visited, perhaps because it has been left in a somewhat decayed and unkempt manner. Some of the rooms a a little too over furnished and in the Victorian style whereby there are too many ornaments for our taste. Some of the upstairs rooms are in a very poor state, but it's good that they are allowing the public to see how they go about restoring not only the structure of these old properties but also the artefacts within them, such as tapestries and pieces of furniture. A pity that so much of the house has to be left in almost complete darkness. I realise that they want to protect the interiors and furniture and other items from the damage which can be caused by light, but in some cases it's so dark you can barely see what's in some of the rooms.
We finished our tour of the house. We spent more time meandering around the grounds and then had a further rest to have ice-cream and a drink and then left for home. It took some while before we hit the correct road which lead to the M1. We again had to endure the confounded 50 m.p.h. zone through the roadworks. After a fairly short distance Carol, who was driving, said there was a problem with the car. An oil light came on on the dashboard and then a 'stop' sign lit up on the display. We've got used to the alarm which keeps coming on which shows there's a problem with the E.S.P. mechanism (described in greater detail in an earlier post, after we had visited another National Trust property at Ascott a few months ago.) What were we to do? Were we to continue with our journey, or find somewhere to draw into at the side of the motorway and wait for a recovery vehicle to come and rescue us as the signs kept on telling us on the boards all along the section of roadworks on the M1? There seemed no option but to pull over between the cones which sectioned off the lane which would in another situation been the hard shoulder which is intended for breakdowns. This is what we did and fortunately we have our own breakdown cover with Swinton insurance. I used my mobile to call for assistance which took a long time to connect. By the time I'd done this a breakdown truck had arrived and we had to be taken off the motorway at junction 16 and left in a truck-stop lay-by which fortunately had a pub where we could get a drink and a sandwich as well as very convenient toilets. We had to re-arrange the breakdown rescue from Swinton as they had been directed to collect us from the motorway. We we then informed that it would be a good two hours before they could arrive. But by then we were relieved to have been rescued from the motorway roadside as it was somewhat nerve -wracking, to say the least. Not something I would ever want to repeat, even though the traffic was moving at 50 m.p.h. through the roadworks it was still extremely heavy-flowing and dangerous. I have never, in all my driving career of some 45 years or so, broken down on a motorway and had to be rescued. Indeed, I think in all that time I have perhaps had no more than three callouts or had to use my car insurance for some incident. The rescue truck did eventually arrive and the car was lifted up onto the back of the truck and we were taken home. A very upsetting and annoying end to what had started out as such a pleasant day out and, considering what had happened to the car exactly a week ago in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne not something we had anticipated happening again. The driver who took us back to Milton Keynes had a look at the car when it had been delivered safely onto our driveway and said he thought it could be the head gasket that had caused the problem.