Sunday, 28 February 2010

A Cotswold bonbon

Sometimes we take the bike down an unexplored winding road and end up in the most glorious spots. We didn't walk here, but we had to stop to admire the view. If you right click on the image, you can too.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

New Ashmolean extension

A change of environment from the open spaces of the Cotswold countryside, to Oxford, whose great University is built of Cotswold stone, a magnificent golden ornament which glows warmly in the sun. Near the centre of Oxford lies the Ashmolean Museum, where Inspector Morse fans will remember 'The Jewel That Was Ours' is set. Opposite it, and also appearing in that and other Morse dramas, is the stately Randolph Hotel, for the more well off visitors to our city.

So here we were, in the rain, to inspect the new extension, tucked away behind the grand frontage. Would it be a blight or a blessing? It was a blessing. The new galleries are simply breathtaking and a delight. Here is our first view of the open plan design, which allows everyone to see everyone from different galleries - look beyond this little bronze of Rodin's thinker, to the tapestry beyond. Keep it in mind - it will appear later.
There is a dizzying side staircase, overlooked by this upper walkway, which I could not quite capture properly -

Not all of the rooms are ready, but it did not detract from our enjoyment..

There was such a lovely, busy atmosphere, helpful, friendly staff on hand and so many people enjoying the old and new works on display.

Possibly the most spectacular area is this central 'hub' - if a tall, open column of space reaching from the top floor to the ground floor can be called a hub.

It is almost like a hall of mirrors- you look behind you to find you are looking at the section you were in not five minutes previously. Keep an eye on this Korean moon jar - looking through to some ceramic platters...

...cross the hall and there is the moon jar from the other side, with a glimpse of lower floor gallery just beneath it.

Now here is a corner of tapestry - that is the same tapestry we saw beyond Rodin's statuette -


And now we are looking up, across to the modern ceramics, and faintly visible through the cabinet, the upper gallery which we started off in.

If you are in Oxford I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to this wonderful new feature. We emerged over three hours later, our heads whirling, but thoroughly satiated.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Thinking of Spring 14th Feb

At present life consists of two things for me - working and walking, in that order. At the moment, working is full time, with little space for anything more than an 'if-I-don't-get-out-I-will-explode' march round the village fields. Last Sunday though, we woke to the first blue skies and sun we'd seen for days, so without stopping for breakfast, we hastened over to one of our favourite walks, to look for signs of Spring.
There are new shoots appearing - not yet on the trees, but certainly in crop fields. We walked across to a lovely farm, the footpath following along the almost purple hogged hedgerow.
First it basked in almost warm sunshine, then dark clouds rolled over and it merged into the landscape like a camouflaged animal.
So I stalked it, getting closer...
...and closer...
Walking round the estate we could sense a stirring - birds jousting with songs, sticky horse chestnut buds swelling, catkins and snowdrops trembling in the chilly breeze. And two large, bronzed hares galloping across a field towards cover.
While the sun was out, it made one hope that maybe the year is on the turn at last.
In a few weeks time, these rich winter neutrals will have transformed to gauzy greens and saffrons.
I am sure of it.
Further reading on this estate

British History online fascinating in-depth reading on the estate, it's long history and the surrounding villages which belong to it, including the farm I have shown here.

A discussion on development and repair of the grade one listed estate house - (not shown here)

English Heritage report on the estate house (with picture)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Weather - changeable

Too bitterly cold to take the motorbike out, so today we confined ourselves to a brisk, bracing walk outside of the village. The bright sun did nothing to warm us.

Especially as there were ominous clouds moving in from the East, blown along on a thin, cutting wind.

In the distance we could see something - sleet, rain or snow - being dumped from these gloomy giants.

Soon they were swallowing the blue sky and we hurried back as fast as we could across claggy fields. Then it arrived.

More snow. Tiny powdery dots hurtling towards us in a frenzy. Dramatic, but nothing to worry about.

Just a little reminder that winter is not quite done with us yet.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The working Cotswolds

With lots of work on my desk and the weather being so dreary, walks outside of the village are sparse. The last one was (spoilt as we are) rather unsatisfactory. It was a new one and we should have done it the other way around, because as Andy observed, most walks have natural directions and had we started where we finished, we'd have had a pub at the end and lovely views to look at, instead of which we had our backs to the landscape most of the time. However, here we were last week in pretty Temple Guiting, before we realised the error of our way (as it were). Even the Cotswolds struggle to look interesting when the clouds are sat on them, but there were points of interest; for instance, someone had been hedge laying, pollarding the nearby trees for material.

There are many different styles of hedge laying, but I could not quite pinpoint this pattern. My knowledge of this old country craft is limited, but for further information there is the National Hedge Laying Society. It seems to just about survive, thanks to renewed interest in the countryside, an acknowledgement that we need hedgerows (and so does wildlife) and invaluable volunteer work.

Where the branches are laid back and not broken, new growth will appear, turning this into a living barrier and if you look at many of our field hedgerows you can clearly discern the pattern of decades old patterns in thickened trunks.

After a rather hairy journey along a road, with car drivers oblivious and uncaring of pedestrians, we were back in fields, plodding up a hilly footpath. I turned round to see the view (which would have been even better had we been coming the other way...) and there is
Jackdaws Castle laid out in all its glory. We are near Cheltenham and this is racing country. Owned by renowned trainer Jonjo O'Neill, these gallops are spectacular - on the home page of the Castle site can be seen a video of jockeys training here. There on the right, the racing tracks, and there on the left, the jumps, (best seen if you click on the picture, which is much larger).

Further along the way, a more mundane Cotswolds activity - not as glamorous but even more vital. Quarrying the soft yellow stone for housing and renovation. It can never be a pretty sight, but it is necessary to keep our region alive and in the traditional manner. This quarry has supplied stone in renovations ranging from the Houses of Parliament to Blenheim Palace.

Hard to get a good look, as sensibly the footpath is well away from the quarry edge and hedged thickly with hawthorns.

And of course, always present no matter where you walk - the favourite of the Cotswolds, sheep. Everywhere.

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