Burford Wildlife Park

 

We are truly spoilt for choice in our local area for interesting places to go.  I am so lucky to have grandchildren who I can use as an excuse for going to all the farm parks, forests, steam railways and adventure playgrounds.

There certainly wasn’t anything like that where I grew up in the North of England.  My playground was the shipyards on the River Tyne, abandoned coal mines, or the sand dunes and castle ruins on the North Sea Coast.

The child in me can never get enough of our local Wildlife Park at Burford.  It is so well run and the animals are the first priority.  It is such a joy to see the beautifully maintained grounds and healthy happy animals living as naturally as it is possible and safe for them to be.  I have a season ticket there and go as often as I can with the grandchildren.

 

 

Cotswold Water Features

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Autumn is one of my favourite times to go out and about in the Cotswolds.  When the children are back at school and most of the tourists have gone home, the villages and parks are reasonably quiet.  It is a pleasure then to stroll around them and enjoy the peace and quiet and natural beauty.

I live in a Spa town which was founded on the health giving properties of the natural spring water so water is a common feature around here.  Indeed just off the old Roman Road to Cirencester is an area called Seven Springs.

One of the most unusual Springs is  where the water gushes out of a stone crocodile head. I love the fact that a respected cotswold stone builder from the nearby village of Hazleton built this feature in the 19th Century.  Presumably some local landowner paid for it.  The spring water has been gushing out of the crocodile’s mouth ever since.  Some days, like yesterday, after lots of heavy rain, it is a truly spectacular sight.

Many Cotswold villages have delightful streams or rivers running through them and none is more beautiful than Bourton on the Water.  This delightful town is a favourite of mine when the sun is setting and the only activity is the ducks settling down for the night.

 

Stepping out

Stepping out

The Cotswold countryside, parks and gardens are a almost swamped by luscious green foliage this year.  The early spring and wet May seem to have benefited the trees and lawns.  It is a joy to walk amongst them.

There are lambs, foals, baby rabbits and ducklings to be seen all around and my garden birds are working overtime to feed their young.  They beaver away all day long in choreographed movements almost like a dance.

I went to a local park with my little granddaughter at the weekend and she was delighted to see six cygnets that have hatched out recently.  The swans nest on an island in the lake but they come over to the grass to feed and walk their little ones.  It is amazing and heart-warming to see how many adults and children turn up in their spare time to see and photograph the new arrivals.

Swans are very protective parents so it is best not to get too close!  As Shakespeare says…

So doth the swan her downy cygnet save,

Keeping them prisoner underneath her wings.

“Today was a good day” or  “I wouldn’t start from here!”

In the woods with hubby and dog

There’s a well-known joke, which has been around since at least 1924 about a tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions. The Irishman replies: ‘Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’.

That’s the way I feel about today’s weekly photo prompt!

The prompt is “Today was a good day”.  But recently every day seems to present a challenge of almost unmanageable proportions so I am just going to imagine what ‘a good day’ would be for me.

I think my good day would start with a breakfast of fresh fruit with muesli and natural yoghurt.  I would eat this sitting in a Cotswold garden, by a stream with fish swimming lazily by.  To drink I would have fresh orange juice followed by the perfect cup of coffee.  I imagine it to be an autumn day, early September, when the trees are still laden with fruit, the harvest from field and hedgerow is in, and the birds are well-fed and singing happily.

I would be content for a while sitting with my husband and little dog reading a good book; I can recommend ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey; or doing the puzzles in my favourite daily newspaper.  But pretty soon I would want to meet up with my grandchildren for an adventure.

I would take them anywhere with trees and animals, a playground and a picnic area.  We are spoilt for choice in the Cotswolds with natural woods and ancient forests on our doorstep, as well as Burford Wildlife Park, Bourton on the Water Birdland, and Prinknash Bird Park, which are among my favourites.   Westonbirt Arboretum and Cotswold Wildlife Park are close behind.  There we would run free, or explore on cycles, skates and scooters with the youngest in her pushchair.  We would climb trees, collect berries, nuts and seeds, cross wobbly rope bridges, build dens, swing, slide, feed the animals, sing songs, take photos and make up stories.  Then we would have an enormous feast of a picnic washed down with ice cold spring water and followed by a soft whippy ice cream.

The children would have a nap on the journey back and wake refreshed to capture their memories of the day in collage, painting and drawing, or stories and poems illustrated with their photos.  Later we would bake yummy pies and crumbles with the fruits and berries they collected.  We would enjoy them with their parents before sending them home to sleep well and dream of their good day.

I would return to my seat in a Cotswold garden, by a stream with fish swimming lazily by.   My hubby would be there with our sisters and some special friends.  Someone would barbecue a perfect steak for me and serve it with a fresh salad from the garden.  I would have a large glass of beautiful red wine and watch the hot air balloons float overhead as the sun set.  No doubt one of them will be pig shaped!

Doors Painted by Fr Stephen Horton OSB of Prinknash Abbey

Today I took my grandson to Prinknash Abbey for a snack in the wonderful café, and to play in the beautiful grounds of the Monastery of Our Lady and St Peter. I have written about the abbey several times before as it is a very special place for me.  I was thrilled to meet Fr Stephen Horton again, who painted all the beautiful doors above.

The Abbey is set high in the Cotswold Hills near Cranham and Painswick so the views are spectacular.  There is ancient woodland behind, and to the front, a clear view towards Gloucester with its magnificent Cathedral.  On a clear day you can see May Hill with its crown-shaped clump of trees on the summit.  They were planted in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and are visible for miles around.  Beyond that there are the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  Having observed that view on a daily basis, the monks are very good at forecasting the weather merely by looking at May Hill.  If the hill looks a misty blue they know there will be rain at Prinknash later.  If the crown of trees is lost in cloud, there will be a storm.

I discovered while working in the old ‘St Peter’s Grange’, which is now home to the monks again, that it was built in this position, sheltered by the hills and trees, as protection from the plague!  There is documentary evidence, as well as evidence inside, that some parts of the Grange were built in the 14th century.  In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “For the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.”  So we know that there was a chapel on the site then.  By the time the Grange was built the Black Death had already swept through England and people thought it was carried on the wind.  Wealthy people therefore built their homes on the side of a hill sheltered from the wind in the hope that this would protect them.

One of my jobs at the Abbey was to polish the Parker room.  This room was named after William Parker who was Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515.  He was responsible for many improvements to the building.  In July 1535 Abbot Parker entertained King Henry V111 and Anne Boleyn for a week.  They used St Peter’s Grange as a hunting Lodge because there were many deer around – as there are today nearby.  One fascinating snippet that appeals to me is that Abbot Parker had windows put into positions from which he could watch the monks about their work.  He used to spy on them.  I believe, contrary to what Wikipedia states, that this is where the phrase “Nosey Parker” comes from.

At Prinknash the monks have long been known for their art and craft work.  Vestments and stained glass were early specialities. They also made beautiful pottery for many years from the local clay.  The monks still make Incense that is exported all over the world.  One of the monks. who sadly passed away. created a huge wonderful painting for the millennium which was displayed in the Abbey Church.  He also painted and created stained glass.  Many of his pictures were made into lovely cards which were sold in the Abbey Shop.  The abbey’s walled garden is still growing a variety of fruits.  Today there were ripe raspberries to pick.

As I said, we met Fr Stephen Horton OSB who is the Prior and Novice Master.  He is a prolific and very talented painter.   I was fortunate enough to buy some of his original water colour paintings while I worked at the Grange.  They are my pride and joy.  The one I love especially is a watercolour of the Vale of Gloucester as seen from the roof of the Abbey.   When inspiration struck him for this painting he had no suitably sized paper on which to paint the panorama.  Being a monk and used to making use of whatever is available, he used two pieces of A4 paper side by side.  This painting speaks to me of so much more than the view.  It is creativity at its most basic, I feel.  The painting had to be painted there and then using whatever was to hand.  The muse could not wait for a trip to the art suppliers!  It also speaks to me of the way of life of the monks.  They waste nothing and ask for nothing.  They live such a simple life yet produce beauty all around them from whatever is there to be used.

Apart from being a brilliant painter, Fr Stephen is also a great thinker who gives wonderful sermons.  He says that “the one journey that really matters is the journey inwards”.  On occasion I have asked him for copies of his notes as I want to study his words deeply.  He says monastic silence is, “an inner stillness like at the bottom of the ocean, where the force eight gale might be going on, but deep down you do come to a stability, an inner anchoring”.

One of the saddest things that happened at Prinknash was the theft of a statue of Our Lady of Prinknash in 2002.  There are many statues at Prinknash but this one was extremely beautiful and so special.  It was about 20 inches tall, carved of Flemish Oak, and had belonged to St Thomas More. After the Reformation, it was taken abroad but returned in 1925 when the Benedictine monks founded their new abbey at Prinknash.  Of course this means it was hundreds of years old and priceless in the truest sense.   The Abbey Church was always open for visitors and those who wished to pray, and the statue used to stand on a shelf to the left side of the church.  One day it just disappeared while the monks were at tea, stolen to order presumably as nothing else was taken.  It devastated the community in the abbey and the wider community, including myself, who attended Mass there.  I almost believe it took the heart out of some of the monks and the community itself.  I have a picture of that statue and I often think that one day it will return to its rightful home.  Maybe when the current ‘owner’ dies he will leave it in his will to be returned to Prinknash ~ after all he can’t take it with him!

This coming Saturday, 11th July is the Feast Day of St Benedict who lived in the 6th Century.  I have no doubt that the monks at Prinknash, who follow the rule of St Benedict, will be celebrating with a special meal and maybe a glass of wine.

Below I have added some of my photos of doors for the weekly photo challenge

ROY-G-BIV ~ Rambles and rainbows

Indigo denim jeans on  Jungle playmat

Jungle playmat

The differences between being a child in postwar Britain, a parent in the 1970’s, and a grandparent today are amazing to me.  When I was a child there were still shortages of food which meant essential supplies were rationed while luxuries were just none existent for the ordinary family.  This made for a simpler diet with few choices and little chance of overindulging.  However, undernourishment was such a big issue for children at the time that the government provided orange juice, cod liver oil, malt extract and often a tonic like Minadex for every school age child.  Babies and schoolchildren were given free milk.

Food was basic, grown, fished or farmed, and home cooked.  There was very little processed food and no such thing as ready meals!  Packaging was practical and simple too.  Butter and cheese was cut off a large block and wrapped in greaseproof paper then put in a brown paper bag.  Sugar, flour and dry goods were scooped out from large sacks, weighed and poured into paper bags.  Fresh fish was bought straight from the quayside or from a man who brought it round the houses in a horse and cart.  Bread and pastries were usually baked at home or bought from the local baker, while meat was from the local butcher and chickens were often still alive!  Every town had a High Street which had a selection of specialist shops and there were ‘corner shops’ in most residential areas.  In fact when my grandfather left the army in 1952, he bought a corner shop right next to the hospital off the West Road in Newcastle.  Some shops, like Woolworth’s, were quite large, but nothing like the huge supermarkets of today.

Women, and it was almost always women, had large sensible shopping bags, which were used over and over again.  Plastic bags had not been invented.   Often the shopping was delivered to the housewife in a cardboard box by a lad on a bicycle or a man in a van.  This was essential as working class women, or indeed men, would not have had a car.  We have gone full circle here as so many supermarkets deliver shopping now, but not for the same reason!

But to get back to childhood, babies as far as I remember were dressed and treated as babies until they were about 3 years old. They would be put in a big pram and stuck outside in the garden or yard, or often, on the street outside the front door.  Here the child would sleep or watch the world go by for hours between feeds with a few toys.  My soft toys would have been knitted by my mum while my dad would occasionally make wooden toys.  Toys, being few,  were treasured.  I still have the doll I had when I was 1 and the golly (sorry) my mum knitted when I was 4.  Boys would often have tin cars or lead soldiers, both of which would be considered dangerous now.

Today things are so different.  Babies are socialised and stimulated from the earliest age.  My grandchildren are taken to ‘bounce and rhyme’,  baby gym, play barns, swimming classes, baby massage  etc. etc.  It amazes me to see the speed of their development.  And at home the range of toys is breathtaking.  Everything seems to have movement, music, colour and lights built in.  Even books have appropriate sounds alongside the story.  And, before babies can even crawl they have play mats like the one in my photo.  This 3D mat has all the colours of the rainbow in it.  It is based on a jungle theme so there are animals adorning it.  It is soft, safe, supportive and stimulating.  It plays a variety of music, animal noises, and even waterfall sounds.  It has given my grandchildren hours of pleasure.  I chose this photo for a couple of reasons.  It shows  my two and a half year old grandson teaching his 8 month old sister how to roll over.  It is so cute and the clothes just tickle me.  Denim jeans on a baby I find hilarious and absolutely adorable.

So this week’s photo challenge was to illustrate the colours of the rainbow and I think this photo does that.  The denim jeans qualify as Indigo while all the other colours of the rainbow are in the playmat.  but just in case you want more I have added a little group of colourful shots below.

 

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