By Pe3  Prendeville

There is no great excitement in Knockdown these times. We are waiting for our shop to re-open; the bridge has been repaired. So I will bore you readers with my account of my few days in Cheltenham.

My husband Jim had always expressed a desire to attend the Cheltenham Gold Cup some day so his wish was to come true in 2011 when our children presented us with a voucher for three days in Cheltenham plus hotel and flights. And so on March 15th Jim and I headed to Knock Airport for our flight to Bristol and the Arnos Manor Hotel. It was my first time visiting Knock Airport and I was impressed; it is bigger than Kerry but small enough to be functional without being a hassle to get through. We arrived in Bristol airport where we were met by a friendly taxi man who brought us to the Arnos Manor Hotel, south east of Bristol city. It was here we met up with a group from Barry’s Travel and with whom we would spend our next three days. This hotel used to be a convent in the 18th century and still retains many of its Gothic Georgian features such as the Chapel Lounge and the Cloisters Restaurant. The staff was very friendly and we enjoyed our few days there.

We were up early next day to get our bearings. There is a lovely public park just beside the Hotel which was ideal was a nice brisk walk before breakfast after which we and the rest of the group of 44 got on the bus to Cheltenham which was an hour’s journey, north of Bristol, through lovely rolling countryside. The actual racecourse and surrounds are huge – in comparison to Listowel which is the only other racecourse I’ve been at! There was a lovely atmosphere all round and it was interesting to spot some famous faces which we normally only see on TV. There were the casual race-goers like ourselves and then the really serious gambling people. Some dressed up for the occasion and some others wore comfortable clothing so there was room for all of us. There were lots of eating places, shops, and plenty opportunities to gamble whether with the Tote or with the Bookies. The Recession had disappeared for these days. Needless to say we did not come home any richer but we enjoyed the day. I was amazed at how seriously some took the whole gambling bit – it is like a religion to them and woke me up to how other people live.

This was Wednesday the 16th and tomorrow was St Patrick’s Day so I wished to attend a Mass somewhere. I had done my research on Google before I went and knew that there was a Catholic church in Clifton across the city from where we were. So I went to reception and booked a taxi for early morning for 7.30 am Mass. As we got into the taxi the driver asked to confirm that it was Clifton Cathedral we wished to go to. “Yes” I replied. “Well” he answered “in all my nine and a half years of taxi-ing in this city I have never been asked to go to Clifton Cathedral.” So I gathered that there were not too many committed Catholics around! He had to look up his map to make sure he would get us to the right place. It was a lovely modern Cathedral with Mass being celebrated in a side chapel. There were about thirty people at this early morning mass in honour of St Patrick. Two priests concelebrated with one Minister of the Word and two Ministers of the Eucharist. The priests made special mention of the Irish and prayed for our country. I was impressed by how sincere all the participants were – it seemed to matter to them that they were there and it was not just a case of rattling off the prayers and get out fast. In truth I felt much more at home there than I did in Cheltenham racecourse.

Back at the hotel we had our breakfast and the group got ready for another day’s racing but I decided that I would prefer to do some sight-seeing so I left the group and got a bus to Bath which is an World Heritage town, one hour south east of Bristol. It was a most beautiful day with the sun shining and I enjoyed myself immensely. Bath was famous as place of healing for many centuries and is most scenic also. I did the open top city tour which is always a great way of getting to know a new place. Then I walked around the city streets and visited Bath Abbey where I climbed 220 steps to the top to the bell tower. It is a beautiful Church of England Cathedral. The city is built on hills so some of it is very high and some of it is on a level with the river Bath. It has lots of history as all places do. I returned by bus to the hotel where I met up with the group who had enjoyed another day at the races.

Friday was our last day and Gold cup Day. The bus left the hotel at 9.30 am and this time it took two hours to reach Cheltenham due to the volume of traffic. We were very lucky that we had good weather on all the days and apart from some fog on the Wednesday it was lovely and warm and dry for the other days. Again we enjoyed the whole experience even if we did not make our fortune. We had a sing-song that night back at the hotel which was very enjoyable.

Next day was “Going home day” but as our flight was not till three o clock we took the bus into Bristol City centre. It was another beautiful sunny day and the city looked nice. We did a city tour on the open top bus which took us to all the main sights including the famous suspension bridge over the Avon valley. It is a very picturesque city with lovely parks including the Clifton Downs which is like the Phoenix park of Dublin with lots of outdoor activities taking place. There are also lots of shopping opportunities for those who like that kind of thing. The tour took two hours so we had to rush back to the hotel, get our cases and get the taxi to the airport. We arrived in Knock to cold rain but we had landed safely thank God and had enjoyed our few days. It was “Cheltenham with a difference” and we are grateful to our grown up family for their kindness in organising it for us. The joys of middle age!