RED WARTS KILL ENGLISH FURRY TOADS (… OR CAMPING IN THE COTSWOLDS)

Last weekend, we went camping in the Cotswolds – under canvas as we don’t have a camper van or an exploding toilet these days. We were joined by some very old friends (meaning we have known them a very long time, not that they are totally ancient) and a very cute four-legged mop with a death wish. Chewing through a mains hook-up cable is a potentially quick route to a shocking end but you will be pleased to know that Harley the Cockapoo’s misdemeanour was spotted in the nick of time.

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“Wot me? Wasn’t me. Honest.” Harley the Cockapoo

The venue for the weekend was a field behind the Greedy Goose pub in Oxfordshire, about five miles from Moreton-in-Marsh. First impressions were not great. A row of dilapidated, algae-covered caravans down one edge of the field, no hot water in the toilets (which were the pub’s main loos) and only two showers which opened directly onto the pub’s car park (but just so there’s no misunderstanding, there was a door to each shower). Add to that, the sky was a threatening shade of battleship and we just managed to get our tent up before a depressing drizzle set in. Our two lots of friends were not so lucky and there was no let up in the drizzle for most of the evening.

So, all a bit of a disaster then? No, not a bit of it – we had a brilliant time with loads of laughs. We spent the drizzly Friday evening in the pub (which we had planned to do anyway) having a very good meal and after that, the weather got better and better. Despite the limited facilities, the campsite was absolutely fine; we had a good space to put our three tents in a circle triangle cosy sort of three sided square with one of the campsite’s wooden picnic tables in the middle. Plus it was dirt cheap – £10 a night for the two of us with electricity (despite Harley’s best efforts)! None of us bothered having a shower, instead we relied on the smoke from Saturday evening’s barbecue to mask anything unpleasant and as we all smelt the same anyway, who cares? In any event, there was actually only one operational shower because nobody wanted to share the other one with the resident family of house martins nesting in one corner of the ceiling. I knew they were house martins by their distinctive song which you could hear at precisely 6pm as you walked to the pub: “##It’s ha-ppy hour again … I think I might be happy if I wasn’t out with them ….##”. *

The lesson here is that company is far more important than your surroundings. We had just as much fun on this basic campsite as we would have done on a five-star site or even in a five-star hotel (where making your own bacon and fried egg sandwiches and dribbling yolk down the inside of your sleeve may be frowned upon). In the evenings, as well as catching up on news and sharing remarkable facts about Sandi Toksvig and flatulence, a few silly games were played, one of which involved coming up with random/bizarre/silly newspaper headlines** (“red warts” and “furry toads” may have cropped up here). Also, being in the countryside away from any light pollution, we were able to spot shooting stars as the Perseid meteor shower peaked on Saturday night.

During the day on Saturday, we visited Batsford Aboretum and Chastleton House and Garden, both within a short drive of the campsite. Batsford Arboretum is a sloping expanse covered in trees (obviously!) and paths with some ornamental landscaping thrown in. It is part of a large estate (the long straight drive up to the Arboretum is a clue) and there is still a grand old house there but this is private. The Arboretum is a pleasant and calm place to wander and there is a large garden centre and café/restaurant too.

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Batsford Arboretum and ……
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…. more Batsford

Chastleton House (National Trust) is fascinating. A Jacobean country house in typical honey-coloured Cotswold stone, complete with church and gardens, nestling in a secluded spot in the Oxfordshire countryside. The house was built between 1607 and 1612 by a wealthy wool merchant. The family became increasingly impoverished over the centuries so it has remained largely unchanged, unlike a lot of stately homes which were often enlarged and improved with the times. When the National Trust took it over, they decided to preserve it (warts, cracks, cobwebs and all) rather than restore it. Charming, picturesque and, inside, it has a real sense of age. You can even enjoy tea and cake in the graveyard; we did.

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Chastleton House
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A peaceful corner at Chastleton aka my attempt at an arty door photo. Why do doors make an interesting subject for photos? Discuss.
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Never seen melted topiary before. Looks like Chastleton may have had a visit from Salvador Dali.
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Doves were obviously much bigger in the 1600s. Judging by the size of Chastleton’s dovecote, they must have been about the size of turkeys.

Colin

* I actually have no idea whether or not they were house martins but it’s entirely plausible. Anyway, there was never a pop group called The Swallows or The Swifts who had a hit called “Happy Hour”, so house martins it is.

** The Headline Game. Give everyone a pen and a bit of paper, come up with six letters at random (we used a random letter sequence generator on a smart phone) and then everyone has to think of a six word newspaper headline using the random six letters as the first letter of each word (and in the order the six letters were chosen). Obviously, the sillier the headline the better (especially after a glass of wine) unless you consider yourself a mature person in which case this game (and probably a large portion of my blog) may not be for you. So, the letters SFTGBS are chosen: “Scottish Fish Take Balmoral Guards By Surprise” or maybe BPBHFE: “Brighton Promoted, Blackpool Have Flasher Ejected”. With reference to the title of this post, you have probably guessed that one six letter combination we had was RWKEFT. When everyone has come up with a headline, you read them out in turn, hopefully have a good giggle and then choose another six letter combination and do it all over again. For each round, you can even choose categories, e.g. celebrities, current affairs, sport, animals. Have fun.

HIDCOTE MANOR GARDEN & A PLUG FOR THE NATIONAL TRUST

Last Wednesday, when I had the day off from driving round the country, I, er, drove around the country. This time with my wife and we headed to Hidcote Manor Garden, a National Trust property near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire (on the northern edge of the Cotswolds). I have mentioned the National Trust in a few of my posts and not everybody will know what it is, notably foreign readers (I know there are some – thank you so much for dropping by my blog!!). So, I have added a section further on in this post telling you what the National Trust is all about. If you are visiting the UK for an extended period of time and you are interested in historic buildings and gardens, becoming a member of the National Trust may be something to consider – it could save you money on admission charges.
Back to Hidcote Manor Garden which according to a website called Great British Gardens is a top ten British garden and “one of the greatest in England”. Now, gardening is not my thing; mowing the lawn, trimming hedges and digging where I’m told is about as green fingered as I get. But admiring someone else’s handiwork is a different deal, especially when it is hidden away in the depths of beautiful English countryside and lit up by glorious sunshine. Hidcote Manor Garden was created in the early decades of the 20th century, around a 17th century manor house, by a well-travelled horticulturalist, Major Lawrence Johnson.
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Near the house, the gardens are divided into several “outdoor rooms” each with a different feel. The gardens then open out into larger spaces, ending in some places at a ha-ha with far reaching views over the neighbouring countryside. There are some formal lines, man-made features and clean cut topiary (how do they do topiary? It’s so clever. Cutting hedge technology, no doubt) but just enough to counter-balance the many exuberantly overflowing informal borders that give the gardens a mostly tumbledown air (in a good way). During our visit last week, there were no real “riots of colour” (other than acres of vibrant greens) but splashes of subtle hues with just the occasional bright red or orange catching your eye. All very calming. Since my gardening vocabulary extends only marginally beyond that of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men (flobadob, Little Weed), I’ll leave the photos of Hidcote to do the rest of the talking about the gardens.
Our day out was complemented by a tasty light lunch in the National Trust café in the company of my wife’s best friend from school days (who lives not far from Hidcote – in the quaint Worcestershire village of Inkberrow which I described in an earlier post). We then sat for a while in the shade of a tree looking out across the Cotswolds eating ice cream. Not bad.
As promised, there are a few words about the National Trust after the photos!
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THE NATIONAL TRUST
We have been members of the National Trust for many years now and feel we have certainly had our money’s worth. It is an organisation dedicated to preserving cultural heritage and areas of natural beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (there is also a National Trust for Scotland). There are about 500(!) places run by the National Trust and membership also gives you access to the National Trust for Scotland. On the National Trust website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/) you can search for NT places to visit by county, town, postcode or place or view them on a map (remember to zoom in to your particular area of interest!).
The NT owns/preserves buildings of historical, architectural, industrial and/or social interest and also areas of countryside such as forest, woodland and coastline (most notably, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland). As well as stately homes, abbeys, gardens and castles, the NT owns properties as diverse as a restored water mill in the centre of Winchester, a Victorian workhouse in Southwell (the guided tour was fascinating), a Roman gold mine in Wales and a lighthouse near Sunderland. Individual admission prices for non-members vary from property to property but can be around £15 per adult for a large house and garden such as Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Smaller properties will be cheaper – for example, the fabulous Corfe Castle is £9.90 per adult and the Winchester watermill, £4. However, if you are a member, you get in to all these properties for free! Currently, joint membership for two adults costs £108 for 12 months (single adult £64.80, young person [25 and under] £32.40 and family membership just £114.60). This includes free entry not only to NT properties but also stand-alone NT-owned car parks (often found at the coast). Areas of countryside owned by the National Trust are usually free to access. So, if you plan to visit, say, four to six larger NT properties within a 12 month period, becoming a member could save you money. You can join the National Trust at any NT property.
Because the properties are free for members, we often use them as a place to break a long journey in preference to a motorway service station, even if we have no intention of doing the full tour of the property in question. Most properties have good quality restaurants and/or cafés, a shop (sometimes a second-hand bookshop and/or garden shop as well) and, very importantly, decent toilets!
If you are coming to the UK but to visit Scotland only, then I’m guessing membership of the National Trust for Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Home/) may be cheaper but I have not researched this.
If anyone from the National Trust happens to be reading this (slim chance!), I accept payment by cheque, cash or any valuable commodity such as gold, coronation chicken or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

This week I drove:-

Monday: Mercedes C350e saloon (plug-in hybrid), Leicester to Derby

Wednesday: Mercedes C350e saloon (plug-in hybrid), Derby to Leicester

Friday: Volkswagen Caddy, Kettering to Bury St. Edmunds

The Mercedes plug-in hybrid was interesting – might be a full post in due course.

Meanwhile, we had a day out in the Cotswolds last weekend, an area of south central England famous for its quintessential Englishness. Rolling green countryside and picturesque towns and villages whose buildings have been chiselled out of solidified honey. We stopped in a couple of the more well-known places, Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water, the charms of which are well-documented. However, I will mention the rather brilliant Cotswolds Motor Museum and Toy Collection in Bourton, a wonderfully ramshackle place where you are guided through the history of motoring from its earliest days to the 1960s and 70s.

The cars on show include Austins, Morris’s, MGs, Jaguars, Rileys and a 1938 BMW 327. The information accompanying the BMW explained that the first BMW cars were Austin 7s manufactured under licence. Every day an education! The car that caught my eye, simply because of its name, was a 1911 Alldays and Onions. These were probably manufactured under licence from the German company, Jedentag und Zwiebeln GmbH. Or was it the French company, Chaquejour et Oignons SA? Not quite sure.

In addition to cars, there are motorcycles and old caravans and an astonishing array of memorabilia and old enamel signs covering virtually every inch of the walls. The memorabilia and signage are not just limited to cars. There are artefacts and advertisements for all sorts of things, plus of course the substantial collection of old toys. This is not just a journey through motoring history but a truly atmospheric and nostalgic look back at life in bygone eras.

Away from the bigger villages/towns, we also came across a couple of interesting places off the beaten track that are probably missed by most people:-

Longborough. This was really the main purpose of the trip – to look around the church in this quiet, pretty little village. My wife and daughter are heavily into genealogy and had traced some ancestors back to Longborough in the 18th century.  These ancestors went by the family name of Tombs. So there we were looking around a graveyard for Tombs. I kid you not. Apparently, there was a Scottish branch of this family – the MacTombs – who were well-known race horse owners in their day. Unfortunately, the search was in vain because the older gravestones had eroded very badly. However, the village was charming and came complete with an inviting looking pub – the Coach and Horses Inn – but we had no time to sample it.

Donnington Brewery. En route from Longborough to Bourton-on-the-Water we drove down some interesting, narrow country lanes. Descending a small hill, we glimpsed what we thought was a large old house below us. It was nestling snugly between the hill and a lake. As we drove past, we saw a sign “Private Road Brewery Only” and then “Donnington Ales” on the side of the building itself. Wow! Is this the UK’s most scenic brewery? We didn’t stop but I have since looked it up. It is based in a 13th century watermill and the mill wheel is still used to drive machinery. The same family has brewed beer there since 1865. Unfortunately, there are no tours of the brewery  but, according to their website, you can stop there and buy the beer! There is also a 62 mile circular walk (the Donnington Way) which goes past the brewery itself and 15 of the brewery’s tied pubs. Might be a bit wobbly by the end. The abovementioned Coach and Horses Inn in Longborough is a Donnington Brewery pub.

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Colin