Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Rain sets in Oct 20

Autumn's gold is turning grey. And when the Cotswolds are overcast, they are very gloomy indeed. But, rain or shine, exercise (albeit brief) must be taken. So we popped over to the woods for a quick leg stretcher.
Despite the dark skies, the central beech grove glows; it is as if we are standing in a copper lit temple, held up by the very trees themselves. Further on into the birch woodland, things become tangled and dank; skeletal twigs scratchily rustling in the damp breeze. The air smells earthy and moist - a clean, woodsy aroma as nature gently rots.
We have had such little rainfall that the fungi season has been set right back. Usually our woods can display around 250 varieties of fungi. Today we could not count them on one hand. We found one large bewigged fellow, somewhat munched on.
An ear fungus, pristine and glistening.
And, barely noticeable, tiny pinheads scattered over a rotting trunk.
There is someone having his lunch in there. He is only one centimetre long, but he is a devouring giant to these little snowballs.

From a spyhole on the edge of the woods, we see that more rain is coming in from the west. Time to go home. Time for hot chocolate and to search the cake tin for leftovers.

Today we lit the woodburner for the first time since Spring.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Cotswold encounters Oct 12

What a glorious little period of weather we are enjoying! Despite having a new job I needed to get to grips with, Hercules and I could not resist taking ourselves out for a spin. After a clear, cold night, the air had a snap in it, but the sun was hot on the back of my neck. I cycled to a village across the way, to pick up my indulgence for the month; the latest edition of
Selvedge magazine. I cannot pretend that the countryside is a Jane Austen idyll; rural people have cars - they need them - and the streets were designed long before automobiles were even dreamt of.

I noticed on my way out that it was after eleven, and I should be at home, toiling in the studio. But as I had my Selvedge and a bottle of mango juice, I stopped at a favourite stile to enjoy the sun. I leaned over the gate and a friendly red setter lolloped over, soon followed by his mistress and two other setters. We got into conversation, as you do when there are only two of you in a half mile vicinity and three dogs happily snuffling in the long grass.

She was the farmer who's fields these are. She was there to put a chain on the gate, and a stern notice to whichever horse rider had been illegally using a footpath. If you think this is heavy handed, consider the poor walker, trying to tread a small footpath which has been churned up and rutted by horse's hooves, without wrenching their ankle. Footpaths are footpaths, and there are more than enough bridleways for riders
and walkers to enjoy.

We chatted about her dogs, which were rescued and re-homed. The sad tales of how they came to be with her made my blood run cold. She walked on, followed by three bouncing coppery hounds and I flipped through Selvedge, happy to see one of Ann Wood's gorgeous owls featured. Can you see it, just to the left of the right hand page?

As I resumed my journey, I heard a friendly 'goodbye!' from behind the hedgerow, and replied in kind, feeling as though I had added to my collection of nice people. I was musing on what to have got lunch, when I cycled past a box. It was sat in the path, in the sun, minding its own business. In my very British way, I almost left it where it was. But then curiosity got the better of me.

It was addressed to someone in a nearby village. I pass many post vans on my morning travels, so I picked it up and clamped it under my arm, thinking I would pass it on to one of our nice posties. It was a rather wobbly journey home, cycling single handed.

I didn't find a postman. Back at the cottage I checked the map and, realising that the village was only 3 miles away, decided to pop out again and deliver it myself. Hercules squeaked and my knees groaned, but we set off again, on different route. This is a long, punishing climb and I only managed two-thirds of it.

It was such a gorgeous day that I didn't mind in the slightest being out again. When I reached the hamlet, I pootled up and down, searching for the property.

In the end I found some men working on a barn conversion.

They directed me to the correct address, only seconds away. By now I was starting to feel a little foolish - should I not have simply left the box at our Post Office? I entered the gates and stood in a courtyard, not knowing where to go next. A car drove up and I was able to explain my mission to a young man, who seemed surprised, but took the box to a side door. A lady came out, delighted to have her parcel, but rather baffled as to why it had been abandoned in a local lane. I left feeling less silly and happy to have done a good turn.

I was right next to a house which has long fascinated me; it looms coldly in shadow, tall and foreboding, unlike any other building in the vicinity. I took the chance, on leaving, to take a shot of the mysterious topiary opening, which beckons darkly like Bluebeard's dungeon.

Now it really was time to get home and to work. I'd had the best of the day. The sunshine was hazing and clouds were banking up.

The way back is much easier than the outward journey and all the views are on the riding side. I stopped to pick out familiar landmarks and place myself.

Ah, there it is - our own little village, half asleep in a nest of trees.

Down the long, long hill we sailed, Hercules and I. A flock of seagulls patterned the sky, following a tractor ploughing the fields and a pinky brown kestrel hunched hungrily on a telephone wire.

We were home.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Yanworth walk Oct 8

Since finding our battered and torn Ordnance Survey map of the Cotswolds (a few weeks ago, behind Andy's oak bureau along with a warren of dust bunnies) we have been finding many new walks. Two days ago found us headed out in the late afternoon towards Northleach, which boasts a superb old church. But we have been there several times and were headed for open country. The tiny estate village of Yanworth is situated near the well known Chedworth Roman Villa; it is peaceful and mercifully unspoilt. There seemed to be barely a soul around.

Turning off, past skittish sheep - eventually our walk would take us to the avenue of trees seen in the distance, marching up the hill.

Now the nights are cold and even by day, the countryside is perfumed with hint of smoke as stout woodburners warm stone houses and cottages.

An undemanding footpath wound lazily ahead.

Just hidden behind the trees, towards the right hand corner,
Stowell Park House sits, plump and grand. It owns the estate and the houses and farms on it; it is thanks to large, private estates like these that so much of the Cotswolds retains its character, both architecturally and in the landscape.

Now we were rather slowly trudging up the long tree lined hill, which we had viewed from our starting point.

An enticing little driveway leading the eye down to stone cots.

Near the crest of the hill we had a broad view across to Yanworth, glowing comfortably in hazy sunshine.

Round about and round about; the footpaths of Britain sometimes seem like a tangle of yarn. If you follow the right strand you can make a full - if wonky - circle.

And it is always worth pausing on a steep climb to see where you have been.

A final treat; a cluster of houses, barns and a tiny Norman church, silent and old, as if preserved in aspic. The church, dating back to around 1200, was sadly shut, so it will be explored another time: this is a very good walk, and one which we can extend - we will be back.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Rain arrives 6 Oct

Looking backwards from where I've been

We woke today to find autumn rain being blown against the window. It is the first real rain we have had for weeks, and dark skies were sweeping in with intent, as if to make up for past neglect. I tried to nip out between showers and for a while I thought I had escaped the worst as I watched a particularly brooding cloud bustle its wet way across to Oxford.

But inevitably I got caught by another,and endured a wet journey round the lanes, rain streaming down my specs and into my eyes. By the time I reached the flat road on the last lap, it had fizzled out again.

The big ruts in the track by the woods are filling up again and I had to get off and push; neither Hercules nor I are equipped to deal with stony paths and we prefer to walk this part.

The stubble fields are muddy gold, like a drenched Labrador. I sent a text Andy to let him know I was nearly home and there was a cup of tea waiting for me when I returned windswept and wet; but nothing a hot bath and a bowl of porridge couldn't sort out.

High point - it is lovely to finally settle into real autumnal weather.

Low point - rain in my eyes and trickling down my neck.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Chastleton 29 Sep


Although we have lived here now for seven years, there are still many pockets of the area we have not discovered. We may have seen their names on the map, or passed the road signs, but ignored them; this is the (largely) protected Cotswolds and they will be here tomorrow, next year and, God willing, the years after. Last Wednesday we trod a new walk, only 15 minutes away on the motorbike. Like many tiny villages here, Chastleton is awkward to get to and long may it be so. Undisturbed by behemoth tourist coaches, it snuggles warmly into the landscape - a large house, a 12th century church and a scattering of farms and dwellings. The house and estate are now cared for by the National Trust; such is the delicate fabric of this rare Jacobean treasure, visitor numbers are limited and pre-booking is advised. We were simply here to do our usual tramp around the fields, though as always, we popped in the little church which lay in the shadow of 'the Big House'.

Our churches nowadays appear plain affairs - even austere. But once, in Mediaeval times, the walls were brightly painted with frescoes, from which a largely illiterate populace could easily understand the teachings of the Bible. Over the course of time, they have been covered over, desecrated and *improved*, but it is still possible to find fragments uncovered - and more are coming to light each year. Here is a comprehensive record of such places and if your interest lies in such things, it is a rich treasury. I catch my breath when we stumble unexpectedly on these faded beauties.

Some more snippets -

And more -

Chastleton House itself has some high ranking claims to fame; not only was it once the home of the inventor of that most English of games, croquet, but a mere couple of centuries earlier, the estate was owned by one of the originators of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, to which we owe our 'Bonfire Night' of November the fifth. Today it sat quietly in its grounds, replete with history.

We continued round the bend and began our walk.

It was a pleasant enough route; a winding, stony, path flanking ploughed fields and lined with hedgerows. But it was flat and nothing spectacular. As we neared the outskirts of the next village we found bounty - overhanging damson trees, the fruit on the verge of turning. As always I had a couple of bags with me and we quickly picked 3 kilos. (There would have been more but Andy literally dragged me away from the tree, my greedy paw still clutching a handful of dripping plums).

House spotting - which one would you choose?

It was Andy who sighted our first Little Owl, peering rather confusedly from his perch. Holding my breath I managed to snap him just before he disappeared.

His home is not as picturesque as the others, but equally as precious. Our owls need tumbledowns such as these.

We were nearly at the end of our walk and it was time to stop. When we had started out, the skies were overcast and I was wishing I'd worn a jumper. Now the sun was high and beating down, and I was feeling uncomfortably overdressed. The last lap of our journey took us along part of the Macmillan Way.

Wait for me Andy - I've got the picnic!

We found the perfect spot.

Our picnics are humble; our purse does not allow foody feasts. Tinned ham rolls, the last tomatos from our garden, eggs from a village not four miles away from where we sat, and a little fruit cake. There is always a thermos of watery hot chocolate, which is how we like it after a long trek. The setting however, was priceless.

Stuffed with carbs and sleepy from the sun, we lazily ambled the last half mile back to the bike.

This circular walk ended back at the estate, passing by a splendid 'Cotswold Lion' ram, our very own once-endangered rare breed, whose venerable ancestors were key to bringing wealth to the Cotswolds.

The track brought us face up with Chastleton House again, standing out magnificently against the darkening sky.

To see why the Cotswolds landscape appears so harmonious, look at the path you are treading and then look for the nearest stone building. Usually its bricks have been quarried from a nearby location which changes in hue from area to area. Here in Chastleton it has a warm, orange tint -

- and a close up of an old window. The famous 'honey coloured' Cotswold stone.
In our own village the older buildings are a pale grey with a hint of cream, and our footpaths show a whiter, more chalky soil: there is a small disused quarry less than a mile away from which it was originally built. So villages were hewn from the very earth on which they would stand, each having it's own characteristics and over time, aquiring a weather worn gentleness and coverings of bright lichens. On a sunny autumn day, the Cotswolds glow.

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