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Into the Welsh marches (nearly)

It must be the season. Isn't autumn about memory as well as mists? So I'm in an area of England that I'm inclined to call the Welsh Borders (Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Malvern), one where I've never lived, yet it seems to be full of resonances. Tewkesbury - the extraordinary Abbey ceiling is pictured above - was the first place my son (then aged six) was offered a choristership but it was a fork in the road not taken. Now I'm back for the first time nearly 18 years later.

So I tour the abbey (and go back to hear the evensong he might have sung) and check in to my hotel, Tewkesbury Park, just outside the town. I'm in the Richard III room with amazing (and appropriately misty) views over the park (now a golf course) towards the Malvern Hills - more resonances, this time Vaughan Williams and A E Housman. Strangely, though, the main resonance today was when my eye fell on a book in the hotel lounge. Saki was the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro whose short stories on the absurdities of Edwardian life make you cry with laughter. I bought a copy myself in my very first job at the Bodley Head, his original publishers, and it's a while since I read him. After smiling over his talking cats and countesses who pretend to be governesses (suggesting her pre-teen charges should carry off the local girls in a re-run of the rape of the Sabine women), I turn to a short biography. Saki died 100 years ago to this very day, shot by a sniper at the Somme.

Saki was born in Burma but expressed in his stories a quintessential Englishness that would go on to influence everyone from Noel Coward to P G Wodehouse. You would have thought that kind of Englishness had disappeared in his time but it lingers still in this part of England. From Tewkesbury, I head on through Ledbury and Leominster to that foodie hub, Ludlow where I'm staying at lovely Fishmore Hall just outside the town.

Presumably these towns still retain this amazing architecture partly because of geography - they weren't bombed during the world wars (though they took their fair share in the civil war). They must have been unusually fortunate to evade the blight of the planners in the middle of the last century. The charm is palpable but I have to leave. At least it is a mite quicker these days to get back home...

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