My corner of the world


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.


Cheltenham racecourse ~ off-season

One of several Statues of much loved horses

Driving past Cheltenham Racecourse the other day I noticed that the next Race Meeting is not until 23/24th October.  And, the National Hunt Season proper gets under way on 13/14/15th November. This seems such a long way off I got to wondering what happens there during the ‘Off-season’, so I decided to pop up there this Sunday and find out.  It was a revelation!

In the UK most horse racing is on turf although there are a few all weather tracks.   I guess the ‘going gets tough’ during the summer months when the ground is hard and dry, making it dangerous for thoroughbred racehorses to jump the fences.  Every racecourse is different whether it is for flat racing, National Hunt racing, or point to point.  Few are a regular oval shape and different horses run better on different tracks ~‘horses for courses’, as the saying goes.

Flat racing is run over distances between 5 furlongs (5/8 miles) and 2 miles with no fences to be jumped, while National Hunt racing, as at Cheltenham, is between 2 miles and 4 1/2 miles with challenging obstacles to be jumped.  At Cheltenham these include hurdles, fences and water jumps.  These races are strictly governed and the jumps, although terrifying, are built with safety in mind. Point to Point races on the other hand are much more ‘informal’ and for amateur riders.  I have only watched a couple of point to points and I found them terrifying.  The jumps are horrendous and riders often fall and end up covered in blood!

Cheltenham Racecourse is very special and world famous. The Cheltenham Festival is unmissable for any serious racing fan.  It is held annually in the third week of March around St Patrick’s Day.  The atmosphere is electric and the whole town comes alive.  Race fans come from all over the UK, Southern Ireland and beyond to enjoy the four day meeting.  There is a Championship Race each day, the highlight being the Gold Cup race.  This year the weather was perfect for spectators with early spring sunshine, although the horses may have found the ground a bit hard.

The Gold Cup is a Grade 1 race, run over a distance of 3 miles 2 1/2 furlongs. All the horses carry the same weight in the Gold Cup and the hill to the finish is a test of their stamina and courage.  Famous winners of the Gold Cup include Dawn Run (a mare, ridden by Jonjo O’Neill), Arkle (considered the greatest horse of all time), Golden Miller, Best Mate, Desert Orchid & Kauto Star.  Racegoers, and non-racegoers alike, grow attached to individual horses as they each have their own personality and style.  In National Hunt racing the horses do not have to be thoroughbred, which adds an extra twist to the races.  Of course there are lots of breeders, trainers and stables in the Cotswolds so it is possible to see these beautiful creatures out galloping occasionally which is wonderful.

So what is going on at the racecourse before then?  Well lots of things as I discovered.

There is an amazing building at the racecourse, appropriately called the Centaur (half man/half horse)!  This building seats over 2000 people (4000 standing) and has some beautiful spaces inside including the gorgeous Steeplechasing hall of Fame.  During the ‘off-season’ it hosts music festivals, craft shows, business meetings, seminars, conferences, graduation ceremonies for the local university as well as being a fabulous wedding venue.

Outside the Centaur in the grounds around the racetrack there is lots of activity too as you will see from my photos.  There is a permanent facility for Riding for the Disabled and the racecourse has its own railway station which still has steam trains running.  This is operated by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway GWR and is run mainly by volunteers.  The station, signal box and platform take me right back to my childhood and day trips to the seaside.  But now visitors can steam through the Cotswolds enjoying the scenery.  It is marvellous.

There are some great statues around the racecourse of Gold Cup winners Golden Miller and Arkle, as well as dawn Run, and Best Mate and of course the Centaur.  Some of these were removed while the £45million building work is going on but I did find one or two.  The fabulous new stand and walkway is due to be ready for the 2016 Festival and I must say it was looking great today.

Another permanent feature near the entrance to the racecourse is a veterinary block complete with tackle shop, offices etc.  And, in the car park of this building is a waiting area for emergency vehicles and responders.

Also in the grounds was a temporary ‘big top’.  This beautiful blue and white tent was the circus with a purpose, Circus Starr, a wonderful charity bringing fun and excitement into the lives of disabled and disadvantaged children and their families.  I was so jealous that I didn’t have a ticket as I stood outside and enjoyed the music from Frozen waft out from the big top.  I could hear gasps of pleasure at what I assumed were trapeze artists doing aerial dances to ‘Let it Go’.

Apart from this there were dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, and a young lad riding a motorbike as well as builders creating the new walkway.

Advertised events coming up before the season takes off included;

Sportive’s Cycling Event 15th August

Leap for LINC Charity bungee jump 23rd August

‘Frozen’ Cinema Screening 29th August


Banksy ~ A rebel with a cause?

I recently wrote about our concert at the Tuckwell Open Air Theatre.  For several weeks before the concert we rehearsed in a room above a pub in one of the older parts of Cheltenham.  Right opposite the pub, on the corner of Hewlett Road and Fairview Road, was an ugly modern telephone box.    I will never understand why the powers that be got rid of our lovely red telephone boxes and replaced them with these ugly grey plastic things.  But I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

red telephone box modern telephone booth

However, I digress.  The telephone box was attached to the side wall of a very insignificant rented house.  Insignificant that is until one Saturday night in April this year when a van turned up and a man covered the wall of the house with tarpaulin.  He then proceeded to paint a mural around the phone box which showed three men apparently using listening devices to hear and record the conversations of people using the phone box.   The trenchcoat-wearing men were obviously meant to be spies.  Now this was clearly a reference to the fact that GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, is based in the town.  GCHQ had been controversially in the news because of Edward Snowdon’s revelation that they listen in to private telephone calls, though quite why anyone is surprised by that I fail to see.  I may be missing something, but if this is done in the quest to prevent terrorism and serious crime ~ isn’t that their job?

When the tarpaulin, the man and the van left, there appeared an amazing piece of very professional street art or graffiti, depending on your point of view.

It was quickly established that the art was the work of the world famous elusive Bristol based artist known as Banksy, which made it extremely valuable to whoever owned that wall.  Banksy owned up to the work, which is now known as Spy Booth

People came from miles around to have their photograph taken inside the Spy Booth including my daughter and my grandson!

Jenny and Stanley in the Spy Booth

Of course all of this attention had negative consequences too.  The painting was very soon badly vandalised, which is tragic, but also rather ironic as it was originally an act of vandalism itself.

Banksy vandalised

The debacle which has rumbled on ever since verges on the ridiculous with the owner, the tenants, the council, local business people, millionaire prospective buyers and art experts all proclaiming their views loudly in the local newspaper.   But most residents agree that it livens up a rather dull area, is a tourist attraction and definitely belongs in Cheltenham.  It would be irrelevant as a political statement if it were not linked to the phone box and the home of the Government communications Headquarters.

Banksy himself has said, “As a kid I always dreamed of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood”.  It seems now his street art is so valuable that he doesn’t need to steal from the rich.  They are queuing up to buy his work!   Today I heard that another of his paintings, Mobile Lovers, attached to the side of a community building in Bristol has been sold for a six figure sum and all the money is going to secure the future running of the premises as a Youth Club.

Mobile Lovers appeared in April on a doorway by Broad Plain Working With Young People

Haiku ~ Revelation

Olympic revelation,

Inspiring and excelling,

Heroic athletes.

The Olympic pennant we made at WI to present to an Olympic AthleteCheltenham_coat_of_arms

Benhall Women’s Institute was formed in October 2009 on the outskirts of Cheltenham Spa in the Cotswolds.

Our Olympic Pennant displays 5 cameos representing local features:

  •  Pittville Pump Room ~ a Regency Spa building officially opened in 1830
  •  Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a prestigious award presented annually at the National Hunt Race meeting at Cheltenham racecourse
  •  The Devil’s Chimney at Leckhampton ~ a rocky pinnacle which is a prominent local landmark on the Cotswold Way
  •  The “Doughnut”, an iconic building in Benhall, home of GCHQ ~ the Government Communications Headquarters and part of our WI logo
  •  The Olympic Torch is at the centre of our pennant.  The slim UK 2012 design is very distinctive.  It will be coming through Cheltenham on its way from lands End to London on Wednesday 23rd May 2012.

The pennant’s background depicts the honey colour of Cotswold stone and is bound with the Olympic colours of blue, black, red, yellow and green.

On the back of the pennant is this message:~

“The members of Benhall WI would like to congratulate you for participating in the 2012 Olympics.  We hope you enjoy your visit to London 2012.  We present this pennant as a souvenir”.

The pennant was designed and created by a group of Benhall WI members

Haiku inspired by September Challenge at Haiku Heights.