Walk this Way

Walk this Way

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Almost the end of the summer here in the UK and Autumn is definitely in the air.  So, I went with the grandchildren to Westonbirt Arboretum.  The arboretum is so popular that the car park was overflowing, but once inside the woodland is so vast that it didn’t seem crowded at all.   The aim of the visit was to go on the Gruffalo trail but we found that a bit disappointing.

However, a new experience for us was the bridge-like structure which takes visitors right up into the canopy of the trees.  The bridge is very cleverly built with angled slats on the sides so that even the smallest children or wheelchair users can see the trees every step of the way.  At intervals, there are viewpoints like ‘crow’s nests’ with information and pictures of the wildlife you can find.  Some of the wildlife was a bit too realistic as there were swarms of bees building hives in some trees!

Up there on the walkway you get a totally different view of, and perspective on the 15,000 trees from all around the world which thrive there.

All around the arboretum there are woodcarvings and buildings created from the trees in the woods.  They are magnificent.  But the grandchildren’s favourite was in the adventure play area.  There was a sea theme with a huge pirate ship, small canoes, sharks and fish, all carved from the wood.   The grandchildren loved it and I can’t wait to go back in Autumn when the trees have turned golden and red.

Wooden Walkway and other structures at Westonbirt

Trees are structures just made for climbing up and over, or jumping off!

The Western Red cedar is a spectacular structure

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And lastly,  a woodcarving

A crocodile in the corner

 

There is a fascinating corner of the Cotswold’s in Compton Abdale with a very unusual spring, which a respected builder from the nearby village of Hazleton built from Cotswold Stone in the 19th Century.  Presumably some local landowner paid for it.  The feature is shaped like a crocodile’s head and the spring water has been gushing out of the crocodile’s mouth ever since.  Some days after lots of heavy rain, it is a truly spectacular sight.

I wish I could capture the sound of the pure rushing water for you but my photos will have to do.

I marvel at the fact that nature produces a constant supply of fresh water for us here.  Would that other parts of the world were so lucky.

My corner of the world

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When I first arrived in my little corner of the Cotswold’s 50 years ago it was a very rural scene.   I lived on the edge of the countryside with farms and fields all around.  There was some post war prefabricated housing nearby, and a few ancient cottages.  There was one unobtrusive industrial area with factories linked to the aviation industry, and their offices were in a manor house which was known as Arle Court.  The manor was built in the mid1800s to replace the Butt family’s original Elizabethan house of the same name and it has a fascinating history.

Today the area around the manor house has become very built up with a supermarket and DIY store, a pet shop, a park and ride bus service, new housing, and an enormous car showroom and garage!  Most of the old factories have been converted and now house a private hospital, a gym, offices, and a film studio.

But when I go to the area these days, I make a point of taking a little detour to what can only be described as an oasis of peace and a little treasure trove of nature.   Despite everything around, there is still the stunning manor house set in 7 acres of beautiful formal gardens with a lake and woodland hiding it from the busy modern, commercial world.  It is called Manor By The Lake now and is a quirky hotel, perfect for weddings, special events and conferences.  The decor inside is simply gorgeous as you will see if you look on the website.

There are herons and ducks in the lake, woodpeckers galore in the gardens, and an abundance of wildlife in the woodland.  I used to be able to walk my dog there, but now it is all private and there are development plans afoot for the woodland.  I just hope that a little corner can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

 

The Cotswold Lion

The Cotswold Lion

 

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Cotswold Lions at Prinknash Abbey farm

‘In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold’
(12th century saying).

This week I am thinking about texture.  

There are two types of texture, actual texture which you can feel or touch, and visual texture which uses marks to give the illusion of a textured surface.  It fascinates me that the word texture originated from from the Latin textilis ~ woven, from texere ~ to weave and the 17th century word Textile has the same root.  A textile is literally ‘that which has been woven’.   So this weekend I set out to learn more about it.

There can’t be a more random selection of textures than stone, wool, water, grass and brass; however, there is a link!  And it is at the heart of this beautiful area I live in called the Cotswolds.

The Cotswold land is ideal for sheep grazing and in medieval times the Abbeys and Monasteries kept huge flocks of the native breed, which was, and still is, known as the Cotswold Lion, because it has a long shaggy mane over its eyes.  These are stocky animals that breed well and grow quickly.  Their wool is so long, fine, white and soft that it was known as the ‘golden fleece’ ~ because of the wealth it created, not the colour.

From the earliest times the wool itself was traded, but by the middle ages whole cottage industries grew up to process the wool into cloth.  The clothier and his family prepared the raw wool then gave it to his neighbours to be spun by the women and children.  It was then woven by men in their homes.  The weavers’ cottages had long, low windows in order to give maximum light to the looms.  After processing the cloth was extremely dense and almost waterproof due to the nap, which was ideal for the military, huntsmen and landowners.

The merchants who traded in this fine cloth became extremely wealthy. They used their wealth to build wonderful houses out of the local Cotswold stone and to build and furnish exquisite churches in the market towns and villages, with stained glass, stone carvings and brasses.

Yes, the rolling fields, honey coloured stone cottages, ancient mills and beautiful churches that make up our landscape are all here because of sheep.  The names of the villages such as Sheepscombe reflect the trade, and even our pubs and inns like the Fleece or the Ram are reminiscent of the wool trade.

I visited the church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Northleach today.  It is one of the largest and finest wool churches in England.  There are some fascinating brasses in this church with images of the merchants with sacks of wool or sheep as their footrest.  They date back to the 1400s.  One or two of the brasses were particularly interesting as they showed that women could be wealthy merchants too.  And, one particularly striking couple had their 15 children shown on the brass!

By the 16th century the industry was moving away from the small towns and villages to be nearer to the Stroud valley where the fast-flowing streams supplied the power to drive the fulling mills.  In its heyday, there were around 200 mills in the Stroud valley and many of them are still standing today.  They are converted for other industrial uses now or renovated into rather swish apartments.

I learned some fascinating facts today.  Who knew that subsequent to the ‘Burial in Wool acts of 1667 and 1668’, all bodies had to be buried in wool unless they died of plague.  This law was only repealed in 1814.  It stated that,

“No corps should be buried in anything other than what is made of sheep’s wool only; or put into any coffin lined or faced with any material but sheep’s wool, on pain of forfeiture of £5.”

The old saying – “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes”, came from being buried in a shroud of wool, and meant that “I am not dead!”

You may know that there is a large wool-stuffed cushion or seat covered in red cloth in the House of Lords.  This is called the Woolsack and is where the Lord Speaker sits during Parliamentary proceedings with the Mace on the woolsack behind him.  It was introduced by King Edward III (1327-77) and originally stuffed with English wool as a reminder of England’s traditional source of wealth – the wool trade.  There is also a larger woolsack where senior Judges sit during the State Opening of Parliament.

Here are some photos from Northleach where wealthy cloth merchant John Fortey paid for the church renovations

 

Here are some photos from Bibury where wool was treated on Rack isle

 

And lastly some photos from Nailsworth where the Fulling Mills refined the texture of the cloth.

 

And lastly, to the pub, The Fleece at Bretforton!

 

I could write so much more, but if you are interested I can recommend these very knowledgeable and interesting websites:

http://www.cotswoldjourneys.com/cotswolds-guide/the-cotswolds-wool-trade/

http://stroud-textile.org.uk/history/background-to-the-local-wool-industry/

 

What are the streets that have no memories

What are the streets that have no memories

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This unusual public art by Wolfgang Buttress is a 22-metre-high beacon and landmark on the way between Gloucester Docks and the city centre.  It symbolises a candle as a reference to the nearby Cathedral, or a flame to remind us of the many fires which have devastated the old buildings over the years.  The most recent fire was at Bakers Quay, which I wrote about a couple of years ago.

The structure is made of ‘Cor-ten’ steel, which I’m not a great fan of!  It seems to be cropping up all over the place on public buildings and local businesses such as restaurants.  It is supposedly a ‘high strength, low alloy, weldable structural steel, which possesses excellent weathering resistance due to the formation of a protective oxide coating which seals the surface’.  This is supposed to give an attractive finish, but to me it just looks rusty!  I think it is a case of the ‘king’s new clothes’.  I can’t imagine what my old dad would have thought of it, as he spent his life in the steel industry and presumably was not a great fan of rusty structures!

 The structure is etched with the words of Ivor Gurney’s poem, Requiem;

Requiem

Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold
Your loveliest shining from earth’s outworn shell
Pure and cold your radiance – pure and cold
My dead friends face as well.

Requiem

Pour out your bounty moon of radiant shining
On all this shattered flesh, on all these quiet forms;
For these were slain, so quiet still reclining
In the noblest cause was ever waged with arms.

I have written about Ivor Gurney (1890-1937, a gifted composer, musician and poet, in a previous post. He was born in Gloucester and became a chorister at the Cathedral.  Later, he played the organ at the Mariners’ Chapel which I also wrote about recently.

While serving in the trenches during the first world war Ivor wrote very moving poetry about his experiences, and memories of his beloved Gloucestershire, the people, the history and the beauty of its nature.

A truly thought provoking poem written by Gurney is Thoughts of New England.  It really moves me as it speaks of the Gloucestershire people who emigrated to the New World. Three of my children emigrated, one to New England, so it has a special relevance to me. And, while I can see the appeal of a new life in a vast country with seemingly endless opportunities, like Gurney, I am tied to this tiny island country with it’s history and heritage.  I feel the weight of the past in the rivers, the buildings, the countryside and the people.  Hence the title I chose, which is a line from Gurney’s poem…

Thoughts of New England by Ivor Gurney

Gloucester streets walking in Autumn twilight,
Past Kineburgh’s cottage and old Raven Tavern,
That Hoare he kept, the Puritan, who tired
Or fired, and took a passage in the ‘Mayflower’,
Gloucester streets walking in frost-clear hour —
Of ‘Captains Courageous’ as a boy read, thinking,
And sea-ports, ships, and all that boy desired . . . .
Walt Whitman, history-scraps and Huck Finn’s cavern:
My thoughts went wondering how the New England Folk
Walked twilight now, watched stars steady or blinking —
If thoughts came Eastward as mine Westward went.
Of our ‘Citizen’, the ‘Massachusetts Times’,
And the boys crying them perhaps about their lanes.
But those no historied ground of Roman or Danes.

What are the streets that have no memories,
That are not underset by ancient rubbish?
Where gables overhang, and the quarters clang
From Cathedral towers, and the slops or dinner dish,
Hurried a man voids handily into the gutter:
And ghosts haunt the streets and of old troubles mutter.
Where steel and scarlet of the military
And routine use flash vivid momentarily;
Imagination stricken unaccountably
At full day into pictures not looked for even,
And children from their play by curfew driven.

Are there men of my blood over Atlantic
Wondering there what light is growing thick
By Severn and what real thing Cotswold is?
Are there men walking slow till tiredness leads in
To write or read till the night’s veil grows thin;
Insatiate desiring what hope would win?
Is the air clear there as Thoreau’s prose,
With frost and sparkling water, and day’s close
As mild, as soft as shows in ‘Evangeline’?
(Since all verse from the air or earth does win).

Do they hear tell of Domesday Book, and not
Think of this Gloucester where the scrivener wrote
Command of reeves first set their lists to begin?
Do they wish walk at evening where the earls went in
And William: Are there not crowns of England old
That first in Gloucester’s Abbey showed their gold?
Can villas contain man in unloving hold
As here the cornered, the nooked low-ceilinged beetle-browed
Houses cloak man in; or the strict thoroughfares
Stone or asphalt-paved ally to man?

Are there great joys in April her high days
For those who cannot high imaginations see
Of other men builded, stirred to a great praise?
Cotswold earthing profound for white material,
Masses of stone gone slender as a silver birch,
Upwards in dazzle to an arching azure.

O where in the new towns shall recompense come,
For the market-days, the week-end trouble without measure,
The crowded four ways and cattle markets boom,
And country faces seen often with so much pleasure?

Can New England think deep thoughts of her bye-ways,
Is Abana and Pharpar a balance for
Severn receiving Avon, at her knot of highways,
Her Abbey township, beneath so high a cloud floor?

But nevertheless one would go very willingly
At the year’s turn, where Washington or Lincoln walked,
Or praise ‘Drum Taps’ or ‘This Compost’, and hear talked
Speech of Lowell, or Hawthorne, or Holmes and be
Pleased with citizenship of Gloucester or Worcester
And companionship of veterans or veteran’s sons
Of the Wilderness or Richmond, see the old guns
That set Chattanooga’s thronged woods astir;
Or woke terror in steadfastness with red anger.

But not for longer than the strangeness lasted.
Severn yet calls not to be resisted:
And the mix of Dane thoughts, Roman, with Middle-Age
Calls all love out to mark on any page.

The glory of Peter’s Abbey high up in Summer,
Or low in Winter’s gloom, and a wavering shape,
Are more than is ever seen by foreign comer
To Connecticut, or Staten or Providence with its cape,
Being loveliness and history and height in one.

And there is nothing uprooted that is not changed.
Better to stay and wonder in the half light
How New England saunters where Kipling loved and ranged, so
And watch the starling flocks in first autumn flight.

The New World has qualities its own,
But the Old not yet decrepit or withered is grown,
And brick and timber of age five centuries known
Are consolation for poverty enough
Against New York, where they say Opera is brilliant,
And the byeways with five dollar notes are strown.
The stuff of Liberty is a varying stuff,
But from Grant’s men. Lee’s men, nobleness should never want.

Here are some of my photos of historic Gloucester to enjoy…

 

 

 

 

Cotswold Collage

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Someone asked me this week if I could recommend places to visit in the Cotswolds for some travellers from USA. Well I am always delighted to boast about just how special the Cotswolds are so I decided to use this as the basis of my weekly photo challenge theme, which is ‘Collage’.

Of course, the best way to truly get to know the Cotswolds is to walk the Cotswold Way.  This walk is literally 100 miles of quintessentially English countryside.  It stretches from Chipping Camden to Bath, taking in picture-perfect villages and ancient sites of historic interest.  The entire area is designated as a place of outstanding natural beauty.

There are bus tours and mini-bus tours of the Cotswolds from towns like Stratford, which I would heartily recommend if you don’t mind being herded with the crowds.  However, if money is no object, I would recommend one of the expert private tour companies who provide beautiful cars and knowledgeable drivers.  They will plan a tour to reflect your interests, whether they be literary, historical, sporting, spiritual, or whatever.

You could even discover the area on horseback, glide along the rivers and canals on a boat trip, or fly over it in a hot air balloon or helicopter.

But for lucky people who live in the Cotswolds, we can spend a lifetime enjoying the scenery and discovering fascinating facts about the people and places that made the area what it is today.

There are honey coloured thatched stone cottages dotted around villages such as Wick and Winchcombe; Stately homes, Castles and Palaces like Sudeley, Warwick and Blenheim; Abbeys, Monasteries, Cathedrals and ancient Churches like Tewkesbury, Prinknash, Gloucester and Ampney St Mary.

There are also glorious rolling hills and farmland bordered by dry stone walls, where healthy sheep graze.  Much of the area’s wealth arose from the wool these hardy sheep produced.

There are also majestic forests, ancient oak woodland and more recently planted specimen trees at Westonbirt Arboretum.  And if gardens are your thing, we are spoilt for choice with Hidcote and Kiftsgate among many others, which include Prince Charles’s own garden at Highgrove.

The Cotswolds also has plenty for the water lovers, with beautiful rivers, canals, docks, quays and lakes.  The great River Thames actually starts in the Cotswolds and we have the tidal River Severn that flows to the sea.

If that is enough to entice you to visit the Cotswolds I will now add a collage of my photos…