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.


  1. Just beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your stories of your ramblings with us. I so much enjoy walking along with you in my imagination.

  2. This was a wonderfull trip you showed us.Sitting here with lots of rain outdoors.Knitting and sewing it is a treat to take time out and enjoy your walk.

  3. Gorgeous trip as usual!! Most enjoyable! & how useful to have Andy being able to reach fruit most of us couldn't without ladders or such!!

  4. Oh what a great essay you've sent out! I read through and will be back tomorrow to hit the links!

  5. Oh, well done, gorgeous and informative.

  6. PG, you have really caught my heart with this post.

    I know that you and Andy really do know what a glorious area is available to you. I consider myself so, so lucky to share it through your pictures and words.

    Those pictures of the church, and others you've posted over the years, always catch at my memory and heart, as I think of little English churches that I have been lucky enough to wander into ... often quite alone. The presence in these spaces always made me slow my mind, and the beauty usually made me cry at some point.

    Thank you for summoning up these memories.

    The landscapes just make me want to travel, and open my dormant painter's eyes.

    Spotting that little owl ... well done.

    The more that you show us of what does surround where you live (and grow those tomatoes!) the more I see where your imagination brews, where your eye collects beauty, where your creativity gets recharged.

    Bravo! xo

  7. Love your posts, the country side glimpses and all those ripe plums. Thank-you.

  8. Glad to know people like you are out there enjoying what you see and picking plums that others dont!

  9. So lovely and quiet - these are the places that time hasn't wanted to change! The Famous Five would have loved your picnic :)

    And well done for snapping the owl! I was out at the weekend helping to remove sea buckthorn and I could have got some lovely pictures of a displaced shrew as it was being carried to safety had I had my camera with me :(

    I love the house with the three chimneys - although I don't suppose it'll ever be up for sale!

  10. Thank-you for taking us on your adventure. I LOVE the church. It is such a shame that we hardly put any personality in new buildings. I want the small homier cottage. Can't you just picture the inside with a fire and comfortable furniture smelling like fresh bread?

  11. I have loved browsing through your Peeps... please don't stop, although it must take a lot of your precious time... it is a beautiful insight into your corner of the world and you are SO blessed to live there :-)

  12. Absolutely gorgeous, Gretel! Thanks for sharing. I live my hankering to wander English countryside vicariously through your blog posts and photos. BTW, I'd choose the house second from the top in that section. :-D Just because I like the windows...


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