September 28-29: The Cotswolds
Another day in the Cotswolds and another day of preparations. Saturday was a day to have an outing around the villages and countryside of the Cotswolds. We came here on our last trip and cycled through the Cotswolds, pedalling through the villages and up and down the hills and it was glorious. That time, we went through a lot of the more well known towns and villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, Moreton-in-Marsh, Lower Slaughter, as well as places known as filming locations such as Lacock and Northleach. This time, we wanted to have a look at some of the other villages and the areas that we hadn’t seen and were perhaps less well known. So off we went, into the countryside. I was also using, as a guide, a series of books I’ve read that are set in the Cotswolds, so I made a list of their settings, plotted a rough route around those villages and off we went.
The countryside turned it on for us with beautiful green fields, winding lanes and narrow roads sandwiched between stone walls and hedgerows and then passing stone cottages and thatched roofs. Steve endured my huffing and puffing of annoyance and frustration, punctuated with continual “Oh!” and“Aaah”, every time I tried to take a photo, only to have my subject whip past at the speed of a motorised van.
“This would be beautiful to ride through,” I commented.
“Yes it would,” replied Steve, “but we can’t ride everywhere.” True. No we can’t. But I’m still in the flux of adjusting to a form of travel that is just too darn fast!
As we motored along, with me hanging out the window or leaning over the dashboard, trying to take everything in, I spotted a plane overhead. Knowing Steve’s interest in flying, as a one time trainee pilot, I pointed it out.
“Biplane,” I said, nodding to the sky.
With no traffic behind us, we slowed down a little to have a look, since biplanes aren’t something you see every day. Then, we looked closer. Is that? No! Is there someone? There wouldn’t be! Yes, there is. There is someone standing on that plane! We watched as the plane zoomed down, then looped around in a wide arc, then down again, very close to the ground, all with someone standing on top of it.
“They must be practising for an airshow,” I said.
“I think he’s coming a bit too close to the ground,” was Steve’s observation.
Whatever they were doing, that daredevil person stayed standing upright, looping this way and that as the plane climbed and dived and circled. I’m sure that person on top has found the secret of anti-ageing because I reckon the G-forces of being strapped to a plane, would do a fabulous job of ironing out any wrinkles, or at least pushing them backwards behind your ears.
We passed through Chedworth, then Winchcombe, where we stopped for a walk around. It was another lovely little town, but had a bustling Saturday feel, with shoppers and walkers passing through. We strolled along the ancient streets, had a cuppa in a cafe and enjoyed the brief periods of blue sky that peeked through the clouds. We then motored down to the Winchcombe train station because I’d discovered this was used as a location in a few episodes of the TV series Father Brown, so I thought we’d better check it out. I can see why it was used, because it was a station frozen in time, a simple little platform with its hanging baskets of flowers and it seemed to have resisted any thrust of modernisation.
On we went, through Temple Guiting, then Stanton, until we came to Snowshill. I’d heard Snowshill Manor mentioned a few times, so we called in for a look. This was owned by Charles Wade, poet, architect, artist and avid collector. He first saw the manor in an edition of Country Life magazine and at the time he was serving in France during the First World War. He vowed if he survived the war, he would return to buy the house. He did and so he did! He fell in love with the house because it was untouched and he could put his architect’s creativity to work. The house dates from the 1500’s and hadn’t been added to, renovated or modernised in any way since that time, so when he bought it, he began adding to it. As we walked through, the house itself was amazing, with original period ceilings, timbered walls and fittings and it went on and on, room after room, out and up and up and up floor after floor.
What’s particularly special about the manor though, is the fact that Charles Wade bought it, not to live in, but to house his collection and this is what’s still on display. He was a collector of anything and everything and when he bought the house, he never intended living in it himself, he lived in the small cottage alongside the manor, all that was in the grand house, was room after room of his collection. There was everything from Samurai armour, to model ships, to bicycles, glassware and theatre costumes. I mean, it was like he was a “picker” before pickers were a thing. Anything you could possibly think of was in there. It wasn’t a museum and it wasn’t hoarding, it was a very discerning collection, grouped and displayed by theme, just as he had housed them himself in each room. It was quite amazing to see and the collection has over 23,000 items, some very valuable indeed. It intrigued me that someone could be so committed to collecting, that it was granted living space in this grand house, while the collector himself lived very simply in a small roomed cottage.
There was one piece that I was particularly puzzled by and couldn’t work out what it was or what it could possible be used for. When I asked one of the volunteers, I was told it was a “baby minder”, or perhaps more aptly, a “child minder”. This is what it looked like:
This is how it was used…at the time, homes still had open fires used for cooking and with the mother of the house having to complete all the labour intensive household chores, as well as bring up kiddies, it was difficult to be watching youngsters while trying to wash, cook and clean. So, the toddler would be put inside the oval shaped arm of the “child minder”, where they were held securely, but could reach the floor to walk. That circular arm would pivot around the pole, so the child was held in the “child minder’s” grasp and could walk around in circles, pivoting around the central pole and be amused and exercised and kept safely away from the open fire, while the hard working woman of the house went about her chores, knowing Lucy or Lawrence were safe from the fire and getting a walk around as well. Then I was told of the other design, which you can just see over the back of the picture, near the modern day radiator. This was a rectangular “child minder” and the child was placed in the end, where the opening is and this one slid back and forth, so the child could walk backwards and forwards, being held securely and kept out of the way of that open fire. Fascinating! I’d never seen or heard of anything like that before. I guess it was the 19th century version of a “jolly jumper” except this one held them in place to walk in circles or back and forth, instead of jump on the spot! After a look through the house, we wandered out into the garden, had a look through Charles Wade’s very modest living quarters and then hit the road.
Back along the country lanes we went. “Beautiful,” I remarked again, at the wonderful scenery passing us by. Next stop was Blockley, another pretty little village and, I discovered, used as “Kembleford” in the Father Brown TV series. So it seemed the Cotswolds were a very handy location for filming that series. Steve stayed in the van, since parking was very tricky in the narrow lanes and I went for a stroll through the village and past the church, which was used as Father Brown’s church in the series. I do like seeing locations like this, so if I ever happen to see an episode in the future I can have that “been there, seen that” moment of recognition!
On we went, through Broad Campden and then we began making our way back towards Cirencester. As we motored along the country roads, it was an obstacle course of birdlife.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” I would shout as yet another pheasant with a death wish sprinted across the road in front of us. They were everywhere! We had already seen, on the road, the unfortunate evidence of those that hadn’t made it and I definitely didn’t want to hear the THUNK of a pheasant hitting the wheels of the van. It was a very stressful few kilometres that’s for sure. We’d seen one daredevil on wings today and now it seemed we were surrounded by more winged daredevils in the form of pheasants playing chicken with traffic. They do have wings and they can fly, yet they were determined to be ninja warriors and race the traffic, sprinting full tilt across the road. We did what we’re technically not supposed to do, which was to brake a lot and swerve a lot to avoid them, sometimes I caught the “Aaaaaah!” look in the eye of one or two as they realised just how close to a tyre they had found themselves, then took flight, hauling their heavy tails into the air, where they settled safely in a tree. We did manage to get back without collecting one on the wheels or bumper, but it was a close call! Enough of the daredevil behaviour now thank you very much! My heart won’t take any more!
Sunday was very much a Go Slow Sunday, with the morning spent finalising the packing of bikes and putting endless reams of tape over the boxes, hoping they’ll survive three flights and six teams of baggage handlers. Then a walk in the rain down the street to our final Sunday pub lunch. We will have one more Sunday, but we’ll be in Singapore and never having been there, we don’t know what we’ll be doing, so this one counted as our final Sunday tradition.
Steve then settled in for a Sunday afternoon snooze and with a break in the rain I headed out for a walk through Cirencester Park. This is a beautiful place and a huge expanse of parkland with paths winding through it. It was once part of the Bathurst Estate, when in 1695 Sir Benjamin Bathurst bought three estates for his sons, one of which was known as Oakley Grove which is now Cirencester Park. Just outside the gates of the park is The Barracks, built in 1857. This was once a depo and armoury for the Royal North Gloucestershire Militia and was also headquarters of the Cirencester Home Guard during WWII. It was a lovely place to walk, along the avenues of trees with their autumn colours, passing happy dogs padding along beside their humans and strolling along in that brisk autumn air. With no one to say the words to, they still entered my head. “I love it here!”
We have had a wonderful few days in the Cotswolds, with a mixture of seeing the beautiful countryside and villages and taking things easy, all while getting the final packing and preparations done for the trip home. We move on tomorrow for our final stop over and our last couple of days before taking to the air on Wednesday. I’m sure there’s more to see! I’m sure there’s something left to discover! I mean, come on, there’s two full days left, imagine what can be done in that time!