A Circular Walk

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Tramway Bridge in Stratford on Avon, now just for pedestrians

I lead quite a pedestrian life these days, but I am very grateful that I am still reasonably fit, and can still enjoy regular walks.  Today I am especially grateful, as this autumn is glorious in the Cotswolds.  The sun is shining through the trees in the woods where I take my little dog for her walks, and the ground is covered with golden leaves.

Another walk that I never tire of, and take as often as I can, is the circular walk beside the river Avon in Stratford.  As a teenager I used to walk to school along the old bridge built in 1822 for horse trams.  It is now a pedestrian bridge, which leads to Bancroft gardens and the town.  But if you turn left, instead of crossing the tramway bridge, you can take a beautiful walk alongside the river.  Here you will get the most spectacular views of the Shakespeare Theatre, and Holy Trinity Church, which is the burial place of William Shakespeare.  The path goes on past the ferry, weirs and the old mill, but there is a bridge which you can cross to get into the oldest part of the town.

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Weir on the Avon at Stratford

Whenever I have visitors, I take them to the Old Town to see some of the most beautiful places in Stratford.  I start at the British Legion memorial garden which is always peaceful and very moving.  There are several plaques on the wall about both World Wars.  There is also one of the most beautiful garden seats I have ever seen.  It is wrought in iron and has a design of soldiers marching amongst poppies.

WW1 memorial garden seat

British Legion memorial garden bench to remember the centenary of WW1

From there I walk past the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall.  The main part of this beautiful house was built in 1613!

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Halls Croft

I then turn left into Church Street and walk on to Chapel Lane where there are some of the oldest buildings in the town, which were built for the Guild of the Holy Cross. This guild virtually controlled the town in the middle ages.  First you see a row of almshouses for the poor and needy parishioners.

As a teenager I used to collect shopping for a wonderful old French lady who lived in one of the almshouses.  Inside, the rooms had solid oak floors which creaked, and low timbered ceilings.  I believe they were renovated in the 1980s and brought up to date inside, but the outside is thankfully unchanged.

Next door to the almshouses is the Guild Hall where you can visit Shakespeare’s actual schoolroom.  Then there is the Guild Chapel, with a history dating back to 1269!

Opposite the Guild Chapel is the site of New Place with its gorgeous gardens.  When Shakespeare bought New Place it was the second biggest house in Stratford.  It was his family’s home from 1597 until he died there in 1616.  Sadly, the house was demolished in the 18th century, but visitors can really connect with Shakespeare in the garden through imaginative artworks reflecting the plays.  It is believed that Shakespeare wrote the Tempest here and this summer there was wonderful artwork on that theme.

Nash's House next to New Place

Nash’s House next to New Place

On the other side of the road, on the High Street, is the oldest pub in the town.  The Garrick Inn, like many buildings in the old town, is a timber framed and dates back to the 1400’s.  It revels in its colourful history of plagues, fires, priest holes, and ghosts!

 

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House

Next door to the pub is Harvard House, where John Harvard was born in 1607.  He married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is preserved thanks to the work of Marie Corelli, the writer.  She lived in Stratford at the height of her fame and was passionate about preserving the old buildings in the town.  She bought Harvard House in a dilapidated state and was determined to save it.  In 1905, Marie met an American couple, Mr and Mrs Morris, who agreed to help pay for the restoration as a sign of friendship between UK and USA.   Between them, they donated the house to Harvard University, and, at the grand re-opening in October 1909, the American ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, declared it ‘free to all visiting sons of Harvard, and a rendezvous for all visiting Americans’.

I would probably go on to Shakespeare’s birthplace from here.  It really is worth going into the Birthplace Trust just to find out what Stratford was like in his day.

From there I would go back towards the theatre and the Bancroft Gardens and return to my car via the Tramway, picking up a whippy ice-cream on the way.

I have written other posts about Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, which you can read by clicking the links.  But for now, you can enjoy some of the photos from my last circular walk!

 

 

 

 

Layers of Leaves

Layers of Leaves

I can’t resist the photos of my grandchildren, layered in clothes, playing in layers of leaves in the woodland.  Autumn has arrived in the Cotswolds, and it is certainly a magical time of year.

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Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest

 

 

 

No more Waiting for Wags

No more Waiting for Wags

Let me introduce you to Wags.  He was found as a stray and taken to an animal shelter in California, where my daughter lives.  This shelter has a high rate of putting down unwanted dogs, so kind volunteers, like my daughter, go in regularly to check for cases just like Wags, who are older and in need of veterinary care.  Peace of Mind Dog Rescue sponsored him and took him to a vet for evaluation.  He was only waiting there for 2 days before my daughter decided to foster him herself.

By piecing together what was known, it seems that Wags had been living on the streets for a while, probably with a homeless person judging by his behaviour – he has a habit of climbing into cardboard boxes to hide or sleep.   No-one knows for sure but he was possibly abandoned because he needed very expensive treatment for his many medical problems.

He had periodontal disease which was so severe that his teeth had to be removed along with half of his lower jaw.  As well as that he has occasional epileptic fits if he gets stressed.

But, for my daughter, he is the perfect pet.  He just loves to sit on her lap at the beach or in the park, ride in her bicycle basket to the woods, or snuggle into his special car seat on her way to work.

He still has medical needs and he has a special soft diet, but he could not be in better hands.   I am so glad they found each other.

My own little dog Toffee just celebrated her first birthday by being spayed!  She has recovered really well and is back to her usual bouncy self, haring at full speed across fields, or picking her way through the woods with her nose to the ground.  She is a joy to be with and I feel very lucky to have her.

Her life could have been very different as she was born, unknown to me, in a barn on a puppy farm owned by gypsies who had been banned by the RSPCA from keeping animals.  Thankfully I was able to adopt her at just 8 weeks old so I don’t think she had suffered.  What it does mean is that I have no paperwork for her and no proof of what breed she is.

I was told that she was a Pembroke corgi crossed with a dachshund, but everyone who sees her says she has a lot of beagle in her!  I don’t really mind what her pedigree is because I love her.

I had her spayed because there are too many unloved and abandoned dogs in the world like Wags who need a home, so I feel it is unnecessary and a bit anti-social to breed more.

Here are some more adorable photos of Wags now that he is healthy.

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

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/

 

Satisfaction achieved

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This photo shows me and my four children just before setting off for my son’s wedding.  It is definitely the moment that sums up my feelings of deep pride, joy, and satisfaction.

If my children ever read my blog, which they don’t, they would be mortified to see themselves publicly displayed.  Young people are never satisfied with how they look, and mine guard their privacy to greater or lesser degrees!  However, I am so proud of having raised these wonderful, kind, caring, funny, hard-working and loving people that I am going to risk it.

We are so rarely all together, as three of them live abroad.  But when we are together there is a bond so strong it feels incredible.  We will all be together again in less than 2 weeks for my 70th birthday and I can’t wait.

I feel blessed to have such a family.