You've never been to Gloucester? A teenage boy in the queue for the museum loos exclaimed in utter astonishment. Yes, despite it being barely an hour's drive from Walsall, we'd never visited the city of Gloucester until Jon's birthday on Friday.
Gloucester, on the River Severn, forms the most inland port in the country and offers the most southerly crossing into Wales. Known as Glevum by the Romans, they built a fort here in 48 AD. The city was appointed a customs port by Elizabeth I in 1580. In 1793 Parliament gave the go-ahead to build a ship canal to navigate the difficult tidal section of the river, although it took over twenty years to be completed. The docks became busier and warehouses continued to be built up until the 1870s importing, amongst other goods, corn from Ireland and Europe, sugar from the Caribbean and timber from Scandinavia whilst salt from nearby Worcestershire was one of the port's largest exports. The area fell into decline following the introduction of the motorways in the 1960s. With funding from the National Lottery, regeneration of the area started in 2004.
Our first port of call was The National Waterways Museum within the huge Llanthony Warehouse. The teenage boy recommended the cakes in the cafe but we'd had breakfast before we'd left home and made out way straight to the exhibits.
Despite the dressing-up box being for kids, we had to play.
The fifteen Victorian warehouses are all grade II listed and therefore protected from development.
We resisted the temptation to pop into this beautifully located Wetherspoons for a pint.
We were surprised at how quiet the Docks area was, everyone must have been in Birmingham.
We wandered into the city centre, marvelling at the amount of occult shops in the high street - if you ever feel the need to buy a five foot statue of Baphomet, get yourself down to Gloucester.
The people of Gloucester are really friendly, The owner of the house with the turquoise front door at the end of the terrace came out to tell me how lovely I looked in my dress.
There's been a place of worship on the site of Gloucester Cathedral since 600. The current church was built in the 11th Century and extensively restored between 1873 and 1897 by Gilbert Scott (the architect behind St Pancras station and most of Raj era Mumbai).
Notable burials include King Edward II; Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror (and therefore one of Lord Jon's illustrious ancestors) and the physician Edward Jenner. I was fascinated to see several Puritan memorials and loved the plaque dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Wemyss, who'd devoted her life and means to righting the wrongs against helpless dumb creatures.
The memorial to Sarah Morley, who'd died at sea during childbirth, featured a pelican - in folklore, a bird prepared to die for her offspring by piercing her heart with her beak and feeding her young with her dying blood.
The encaustic floor tiles date from between 1400 and 1460.
Back at the docks we eschewed 'Spoons for Greek on the Docks. The manager was very impressed with Jon's conversational Greek and we absolutely loved the food - a vegetarian Kleftiko Lahanikon for me and a Bifteki burger (with a huge slab of Haloumi) for himself. I drank Mythos and Jon, who was driving, had zero alcohol Heineken. (Menu HERE)
Alney Island nature reserve runs parallel to the docks and we worked off our lunch with a four mile walk.
It may have been our first visit to Gloucester but it shan't be our last, we loved it!
Of course, birthday's aren't just a one day affair. The celebrations continued on Saturday, meeting up with Tony, Liz and Al for dinner in Walsall's Greek Cypriot restaurant, Kouzina. As it was a gloriously warm evening, Jon and I walked the two miles across town, stopping off at Spoons for a few pints on the way.
When the staff heard us toasting Jon's birthday, they set him over a mini bottle of fizz on the house.
As always the food was superb and the company utterly brilliant. Before we knew it Kouzina had shut up for the night and it was time to go home.
Jon says thanks for all the birthday wishes, 56 is looking pretty good so far!