Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Cotswolds Day

Tuesday 6 June 2017. It was once again raining as we breakfasted at the Smallbrook Cottage B&B. We were on our own today as the American guests had left to travel somewhere else on their tour.

We decided we would start at Bourton-on-the-Water, a gorgeously beautiful place with a very wide main street incorporating a green and the River Windrush which has several low humpbacked bridges crossing it. As it was raining we thought we'd start the day by having a look round the Motor Museum which can be found at one end of the main street.

We last went round it (or first went round it, which is also true) in 1998 and then it was half motor museum and half countryside museum. There is far more motoring content now and whilst some items from the countryside museum are still to be found they tend to be on the back seats of cars or displayed inside vintage caravans etc. The number of actual cars has probably doubled or trebled at a guess and I even found an example of my old beloved 1960s Ford Zephyr Mk.III which I had when I was 17.

This picnic set was on the back seat of an old car and I immediately recognised it as being the same as my grandparents had. It brought back memories of sunny afternoons up on the moors between Lancashire and Yorkshire, stopping in their old Wolseley in a lay-by and eating sandwiches that had been wrapped in waxed paper and placed in the oblong tins. Drinks were warmish tea from a Thermos flask or warmish orange cordial - Quosh - that had been diluted into an old pop bottle and got warm from being in the car. The cups and plates were Melamine, an early plastic.

We came out to a dull but dryer Bourton-on-the-Water, though it occasionally burst into showers, some of them heavy. To escape one of these we ducked into a large antiques shop which had a cafe near the back. The coffee was good, but there was that tinge of musty smell that you often get from antique shops - ancient dust and old cardboard boxes starting to disintegrate from the acid in the card or paper. I had a look in the large toy shop and wondered how young fathers ever managed to pay the asking price of a decent model railway layout, and trains these days? Fran bought a jigsaw pack with four jigsaws in it, two of Venice and two of Paris. No fault of the shop of course, but she later found that both of the Paris ones had missing pieces and had to write to the manufacturers who after checking proof of purchase apologised and sent replacement bags of the full jigsaws.

The rain was falling again and we motored down through Northleach to Cirencester. Known as the Capital of the Cotswolds, the main street is dominated by the massive three-storey porch of the parish church of St John the Baptist. It looked as though it had been recently cleaned too.

Cirencester was Corinium in roman times. There are still traces of the amphitheatre and nearby at Chedworth is the villa of a very important roman. We'll be going there in a bit.

There was an abbey here but in Henry VIII's Dissolution it was destroyed utterly apart from one Norman arch that stands alone in a corner of the Abbey Grounds. A dispute between the abbey and the townsfolk went to the very highest courts. Despite a Royal Charter from 1133 speaking of Burgesses (a freeman of a borough), the manor was granted to the abbey in 1189. The townsfolk protested immediately leading to them being amerced (fined in the modern sense - an amercement was a fixed sum imposed, whilst at the time the word fine meant that the person guilty of some sort of offence would offer an amount of his own choice). Four times in the 13th century the decision went to the abbey and against the town and in 1342 the town claimed that the Abbott had bribed burgesses in the town to surrender the Royal Charter, upon which it had been burned. The Abbott denied this and the case passed up to the King's Bench who demanded to see the foundation charter of the abbey which would have decided the case. Presumably for the townsfolk as the Abbott refused to present it, but offered to pay a fine of £300 in return for a new Royal Charter and this gave him victory at that time.

There was a bit of a ding-dong in February 1643 when Royalists and Parliamentarians had a set-to in the streets of Cirencester. 300 people were killed, but on this day, all was quiet. We went into a small cafe for some lunch and they did a home-made spiced celeriac soup. By heck, it was good, but I was tasting it for the rest of the afternoon!

Cirencester brought back memories of training courses I had been on in 1999-2001 when the firm that supplied my college's information system software was based in Cirencester. I am still in touch with a couple of people from the firm.

Driving back towards Broadway and once again in the rain we passed a sign for Chedworth roman villa, but then thought why not? and as we passed another sign I turned off. We were now driving down very narrow single track country roads with occasional passing places. At least once I had to run my nearside wheels high up a bank at the side of the road to let another oncoming vehicle pass where the passing place was not wide enough. By the time we got close to the villa we were following a coach which carried a party of Spanish schoolchildren. Car parking at the attraction was at the side of the road with cars parked diagonally into spaces. The coach was within a hand's span of them and travelling very slowly indeed!

I made sure I was tucked well into the space I found and we got out very smartish, not wanting to be behind the queue that was bound to form when the coach emptied. We paid at the desk, opted to wander about on our own and passed through into the remains of the villa. The modern building seen above is the site's museum and holds a number of artefacts.

Whilst the villa overlooks the River Coln, its water came from a convenient fresh water spring in the north west of the site and a small shrine to the water nymphs had been created here. Imagine this pool with higher walls around it, painted with a frieze of the small goddesses of the spring. The stonework seen here though is original roman and in situ.

There are bathing and plunge pools to see and some mosaics. Unfortunately rain started to fall again and we reluctantly gave up, and committed ourselves to the single-track roads again.

We stopped in Northleach to visit the mechanical music museum. We were surprised when we entered. Expecting a shop counter and a few souvenirs, we instead found ourselves in a pub! Result! There was a large party already in the museum and an hour's wait to endure. It would have seemed churlish not to sit and have a drink...

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