Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Snowy Cotswold Christmas

Seasonal greetings from the Cotswolds to all! Great Britain is undergoing it's coldest winter since records began in the 1890's and here in our patch we have had even worse snow than last January. On Christmas Day we set off for a morning walk around the fields, before everyone else emerged after lunch.

A little brook, half frozen at the edges, but still sluggishly trickling towards a larger tributary of the Evenlode river, a couple of miles away.

The most familiar of paths are transformed -

- and the broad fields are pristine, save for the meandering tracks of wild creatures. The horizon is softened by an icy haze.

The dullest of dead vegetation metamorphosis's into ice sculptures -

- and the stark, sleeping trees appear sepia-black against the sky.

The horse chestnut avenue leading towards the farm -

- and my favourite line of trees looking delicately skeletal; in summer it is a plump lushness of greenery,
as seen here.

A welcome stretch of cleared road and the rare sight of tarmac.

To the right of the tree line, the big house seen from the side.

As we come off the road and turn back into farmland, the snow becomes deeper and completely unsullied, undulating over the ploughed trenches like a white desert.

Looking back to see the deep path we have trodden; it was only a few months ago that I was walking here on cracked, baked earth, brushing through chest high wheat, the sun hot on my back, feeling slightly spooked by the whispering of the dried corn heads.

Wait for me Andy - I'm still taking photos!

Time to head home - the village is but a few minutes away, through the hole in the hedge - there is the church and spire beyond, just seen through the freezing mist.

Winding tracks in the snow, where the allotments have been a larder for the rabbits and hares - and goodness knows they need it. Next week the temperatures rise and we will have rain. Despite the stunning beauty of the snow, I think animals, birds and humans will breath a collective sigh of relief as life gets back to normal.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Winter drabness at Eastleach Turville

With the weather milder - but still dank and wintery - long walks are resumed. The kind of 'duty' walks taken with a stiff upper lip and the intention to get it all over with as soon as possible in order that one might return to a warm sofa, feeling virtuous of soul. Even the pretty village of Eastleach Turville seemed subdued as we started out.

The river Leach runs through the centre of the village, clean and crystal clear. Behind the trees peeps the tower of one the two churches which sit almost side by side - therein hangs a tale for another day, it is too cold to stand around telling stories.

Sharp eyed Andy spotted a brown trout somehow, amid all the drab browns and greens of the flowing river.

Leaving the village and heading out to the field footpath.

Passing an unpicked orchard, the apples a cheerful brightness against the gloom.

This is one of the bleakest times of the year - not even the faint promise of spring to lift the heart.

The sheep are quiet and sluggish, streaming slowly away from us as we walk through the valley.

At last we reach our stopping point - this rather dull looking muddy track is Akeman Street, part of the old Roman Road which stretches across this part of the Cotswolds. Here we hunker down on the stone wall and gratefully drink watery hot chocolate.

From Akeman Street looking across to the
Hatherop Estate as the afternoon draws to a close. We must hurry, if we are not to be finishing our walk in darkness.

But the too-short day catches up with us and soon the trees are dark shadow dancers as we trudge along muddy grass. A lone black bull sillhoutted against the night sky, bellows a challenge in the chill dusk.

With much relief and tired legs, we return to the village, now festively lit with decorated cottages. Such a reviving sight after a rather melancholy walk and the realisation, not for the first time, that if Christmas didn't exist in mid-winter, it would have to be invented.

By co-incidence, we did part of this walk exactly (to the day) a year ago, but the weather was somewhat less gloomy, as can be seen by comparing some of the photos.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Blue green and white

Readers who subscribe to my other blog will know that in early October I
broke my upper arm. It's been a long two months and I've been somewhat reclusive since then, venturing out for little local walks when I have had the energy - and not at all in the recent sub-zero temperatures we have not-been-enjoying in the normally temperate UK. But things do, eventually return to normal and yesterday saw a thawing, to our relief, although we have been comparatively lucky, sheltered beneath high ground.

My walk yesterday was the first for weeks and it was simply the same route I've been treading for eight years. It is hard to see it with a fresh eye, especially when one is feeling dull and tired. Winter is, by definition, a fairly lifeless season but the winter greens are managing to push through. Over to my left, as I negotiate icy mud, our village nestles almost camouflaged in the landscape like a brown sleeping mouse in a bundle of dead leaves.

The sheep seem to be weathering the cold, as are the many flocks of crows and jackdaws which punctuate my walk with constant cackles and caws.

But just as it seems as if nothing can break through my ennui, I notice the vivid tans and browns of the landscape, glowing in the warm sun which is melting the last of the snow.

And the way a cloud formation can look exactly like a giant bird of prey in hunched, hunting position, tail down and wings spread.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Combe church wall paintings

I think it was in July that we were in the pretty West Oxfordshire village of Combe for a game of cricket. The grounds are set just to the village edge, overlooking the small but imposing church of St Laurence - originally built in the Norman era and rebuilt in the late 1300s. Inside, to my delight, my eyes first fell on this magnificent 'Doom' wall painting showing the Last Judgement.

Discovered in 1894 by the Rev. S.Pearce, it is thought that they were painted around 1440 by the monks of nearby Eynsham Abbey. In the centre, wounds showing, is Christ triumphant.

To his right, Apostles and the Saved, rising from their graves.

More ghoulishly (and perhaps more entertaining) - are the unsaved, suffering terrible agonies and being devoured by a Hellish demon monster. How rich the natural colours are, even after all the centuries.

Just beneath, a Crucifixion scene.

Over the South door, the commandments write large, flanked by Moses - only a faint tracery on the left - and Aaron with his mitre, to the right.

Dating from the seventeenth century, it covers an earlier mural of St Christopher - the most visible remains of which are a mermaid and fish.

The Annunciation - a partner to the Crucifixion on the other wall side - is badly decomposed, but the Angel Gabriel can be seen announcing 'Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum' (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee). And the hand of God reaching down from the Heavens. These two paintings, teamed with the Doom painting looming over them, would have shown the community the simple core of Christian thinking - Christ the son of God, born of Mary the Virgin, crucified that mankind might be saved to rise again on the final day of Judgement. Or not, as the case may be.

Higher up, angels glow jewel-like, preserved fragments of Medieval stained glass, dating to around 1450.

I returned thoughtfully to the cricket, pondering the paths of time; once the monks of Eynsham Abbey built and decorated the church at Combe. Today, our team - Eynsham - were playing the locals at cricket, in the shadow of St Laurence's, nestling in the surrounding trees, to the left.

Monday, 4 October 2010

October woods

Monday was glorious - after days of rain we were treated to a balmy remnant of summer and despite suffering yet another cold I felt drawn to the woods as if seeking sanctuary there.

All manner of insects had emerged to enjoy this treat - from little red ladybirds zooming furiously about, like small red flying machines, to a large bumble bee queen clumsily bustling hither and thither; she was over an inch in length and making her presence felt. I was headed to the central beech grove where I knew I would find many toadstools - sadly several had been kicked over (a personal bete noire of mine).

These rather ugly specimens are, I think, 'Charcoal Burners' which vary in colour - I didn't think to rub them at the time, which would have been the give away as the skin is greasy to the touch.

These are new to me - Velvet Shanks - I didn't discover until later that they are edible, though the rather slimy coating is a little off putting.

This was a great natural composition, the trio of Panther Caps - with a little flash of violet behind the far left hand one -

Which was a pair of pretty tiny Amethyst Deceivers next door to an even smaller unidentified toadstool.

As is this one; I trawled my fungi guides but could not find it. The cap was a magnificent 6 inches wide.

Now that autumn is falling upon us, the woods take on a witchy, tangled atmosphere. I startled a Muntjac deer somewhere in this density, which began barking a loud alarm call. It would only have be the size of a small dog - knee high - but it sounds like a creature three times it's size.

Another Panther Cap - pleasing to look at, but very poisonous. They are commonly confused with Blushers, which are technically edible, but the two are so similar I would not risk it. The Panther Cap is much darker and it's stipe (stem) remains white when broken...

...while the Blusher is a pretty apricot-buff colour with a stipe that tinges pink when damaged, hence the name.

Towards the end of my walk I found this pretty theatrical scene, a setting for a fairytale, the spotlight of sun just waiting for some one's grand entrance and the fungus nestling in the tree roots like an elaborate stage piece.

Only two hours of rambling around, alone in the woods and when I emerged the sun was still hot.

Waiting for me quietly in the hedge, was Marjorie, my new travelling companion. If you read my other blog, then you might know that poor old Hercules, my trusty bone shaker who has featured in so many of my blog posts here,
came to an ignoble end and is in retirement. But I can certainly go faster and further with young Marjorie - and yes, she is firmly locked to the fence.

ADDITIONAL NOTE - I am merely a hobby fungus spotter, my identifications are not to be taken as expert opinion and I am always happy to be put right. Do use a good fungus guide relevant to your part of the world if you want to be certain of anything.
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