Sunday, 24 January 2010

A little Norman church

Westwell is a sublime village at a halfway point on one of our walks. A few days ago we were taking somewhat reluctant exercise, the day being bitterly raw and generally drab. It seemed a good time to explore the little church of St Mary's, which - if your eye follows the winding track upwards behind the middle willow - is tucked away to the side of the green. Up the path, past the Narnia lamp post...
...past leaning, lichened gravestones...
To the porch, a later addition to the older building, which is recorded in
the Doomsday Book, of 1066 - although it is certain that there was a church on this plot long before that date.
Inside the porch, a niche, with recent graffiti - useful for future historians, the abbreviation of *Daz* pinpointing the numpty who carved it to the late 20th/early 21st century. Maybe it will improve with age. These niches were often fonts or stoups which would have held holy water. This one is actually a 12th century
Piscina which was moved from inside the church, to accommodate a large tomb. As a Piscina is a kind of rudimentary sink, with a drainage hole, they must have had to put a bowl in the niche to hold the holy water.
The inner door, with its double Chevron arch, (showing its Norman/French origin) was originally the outside door, before the addition of this porch. In the centre (or tympanum) is carved a faint dial -you can just see the little hole, where a wooden peg would have been placed. The porch is south facing, and the dial - or 'mass clock' - would have indicated to the villagers exactly when services were. There is a better example (and explanation)
here, concerning what is thought to be the largest mass dial in the country at Badsey in the nearby county of Worcestershire. In my researches, this site dedicated to Cotswold sundials, tells me that this one is Saxon.
Inside, is a small, plain interior - but utterly charming.
- with a simple font situated at the back, behind the pews.
Incredibly, the roof timbers are the original Norman structures, which makes them nearly 1,000 years old.
There is little stained glass here - these fragments are what remain of a memorial window installed - naturally - by sheep farmers in the 16th century. Sheep were once the mainstay of the Cotswolds, and it is still a major farming activity even now. Many of our churches, large and small, have benefited from the wool trade, at its height round about when these window scraps were originally created - what a magnificent, richly coloured sight it must have been in its entirety.
Look - someone has forgotten his hat and gloves! They will be safe here, and still be waiting when the gentlemen returns. Assuming he can remember where he left them; it's a chilly day and he will need them.
Another Mediaeval feature, a stone head, described in the church pamphlet as a 'sad queen'...but I think she is more enigmatic than sad -is that a smile twitching her lips?

Despite the damp cold, spring is making tentative efforts to be seen. The graveyard is scattered with the happy sight of snowdrops and we know that the year is turning again.
Leaving the church grounds and looking out across the pond -
We make our way around to the next lap of our walk, on to another village and another story, one day. On a lane we stop to locate home. There it is, on the farthest horizon; a blue hummock where a large beech grove stands about a mile from our own little patch.
There - it's not that far really, as the crow flies.

I am, as usual, indebted for my facts to the little plastic folder of information, examples of which are usually found in our country churches, carefully compiled by those who love them.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A quick spin Jan 18th

It's been over a month since I went more than two miles from the village, thanks to my workload, Christmas and the snow. I dutifully chained myself to my work desk again on Monday, stifling - not very successfully - a heavy sigh as Andy took the motorbike over to our new walk,
Akerman Street at Eastleach, to take photos. I hate being left behind. But later he returned and told me to grab my coat and helmet; the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. Work or no work, I grabbed my gear and was taken on a whistle stop tour of our patch looking at its most glorious in its winter colours. First we went to the top of the biggest hill, where we can survey our kingdom, looking towards the west. The views are vast and wide, and we were on top of the world, spotting the dear familiar landmarks of far off lanes and villages.

On to Swinbrook, most pretty of West Oxfordshire villages, where the Windrush has surged over its banks into the flood fields, providing small lakes for wild fowl.

A bright St George's Cross, the flag of England, flaps cheerily from the little church where I have taken many photos -
but that is another story for another day.

Taking the bike down narrow, twisting lanes, we stopped every so often simply to absorb the views, cold, steely flood water reflecting the soft, apricot light.

Another flood plain and an old farmhouse being renovated -

After so many weeks of the same scenery, it was breathtaking to be out and about.

One solitary, stately swan enjoying a temporary paddling pool.

Time to make tracks for home and head on up the winding lane.

As the dying sun began to steal what little warmth there had been, there was a last stop off to capture a solitary beech clump, which stands near
Shipton Barrow, just seen in the back ground. Sadly on private ground, so no exploring - just a final souvenir snap of a wonderful tour of our part of the Cotswolds.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Last of the snow Jan 7

I have not left the cottage for seven days, and it's been even longer since we saw a bus. Thankfully I have a glut of work to keep me occupied, and we did catch the very best, sunny day to go walking, exactly a week ago. With the difficulties the snow has caused we are thankful that a thaw has set in and I hope to get out and about again. But that day, the snow was at it's best - so here are some memories from the Cotswolds, during what the media like to call 'The Big Freeze'.

Our familiar footpath leading away from the village -

Going up towards the estate farm, and my favourite line of trees.

Hardy sheep scraping back the snow to graze on frozen grass.

A pollarded willow alongside a snow hidden stream -

Walking up to the fields where a pair of ravens are nesting - they too were out and about, raggety-spilling through the cold blue sky with their wonky flight and
cronking calls.

Walking in the snow, we found, was quite tiring. Wait for me Andy - you've got the hot chocolate!

I said, wait for me!

Many of the footpaths were untrodden by anyone else except birds and animals. But the gamekeepers and farmers still keep an eye on things - they have landrovers.

This white expanse covers what is usually a crop field, and I have fond memories of walking through waist high rapeseed flowers, whose heavy scent to me is the very essence of Oxfordshire in high summer.

In deep winter however, it looks as if the badger has been the only walker on this path.

Apart from some large Andy-shaped boot prints, left from his walk the day before and already filled in with overnight snow.

After a four mile tramp through the snowy countryside, it was good to hit the road and have some easier walking, back to the village. I am looking forward to seeing some colour in the landscape again.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow in the Cotswolds Jan 5

The snow has come late to our patch of the Cotswolds, but when it did arrive, it fell so quickly I had to dash out to capture it. As I left the village, it was just beginning to lay properly. There was an unusual amount of bustling for a Tuesday afternoon as people stripped our Co-op store of emergency supplies. Our little Victorian church was looking sweetly Thomas Hardy-ish.
Up at the allotments it was hard to see further than a quarter of a mile ahead - white out on the horizons.
I was the only person out walking, in a snow globe world of my own.
As I left the village, I became wrapped in white muffled quiet, the landscape transforming into a Flemish painting.
Looking back at the allotments and seeing the village disappearing.
I headed for the tunnel and beyond -
Now I felt like an arctic explorer, warm under my layers, as the snow fell faster in thick clumps.
How beautiful even the bare seed heads appear - the summer froth of cow parsley flowers replaced with ice crystals.
I was not too far from habitation - soon I was heading for a farm, my footprints the only ones, save for the spidery trails left by birds.
Pheasants were flocking to the farm, intent on shelter and filching stray grain from the storage bins. As I approached, they whirred clumsily up into the flurries, cackling rustily, like clockwork toys.
I was back on the lane and turning for home -
- just in time to catch a blurred shot of Mr Hare, not as graceful as he normally is, lumbering across a distant field.
Back towards the top farm I clumped, my mouth open and tongue out to catch the falling flakes.
Snow seems to suit Cotswold houses, the thick stone walls appearing impenetrable from any cold.
Time to go home.
Past the gorgeous house-which-should-be-mine...
Past the farmer doing some housework on the hedgerows...
Reaching my favourite footpath which takes me back to the village as dusk falls.
The stream trickles slowly, the only noise save for the distant laughter of children from the central green.
Dog walkers began to emerge, and I was almost back to civilisation.
In the time I had been out and about, we had been transformed. What will tomorrow bring?

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