Friday, 30 June 2017

Tewkesbury Abbey

It's Wednesday 7 June and our Cotswolds holiday ends today as we head back home in time to play a gig with the band on Thursday night. We say our goodbyes at the B&B and head along the A44 to Evesham where were turn left and head south west again in order to have lunch and a look around the abbey at Tewkesbury.

We parked right next to the abbey in a fairly small car park. Apart from the spaces along the edge of the car park there was just room for one row of spaces set at an angle in the centre. The car park attendant (what??? Is he the last such person I wonder?) directed me to one of the centre spaces and told us where to find something to eat before looking round the abbey. There is in fact a volunteer-run cafe in the abbey grounds, the Touching Souls Tea Room.

Once fed and watered, it wasn't particularly obvious which was the way in and we walked past this door (we should have gone through it...) and walked an entire circuit of the church exterior.

This wasn't all hardship because it was a nice sunny day and we found this modern wall with bits of old window tracery in it and had a good view of the details on the church walls.

This doorway, for instance, had obviously had some work done on it recently. The stone was bright and the carvings well defined. Originally each of those little pedestals would have had a painted statue of a saint standing on it.

The building of the abbey started in 1087, just 21 years on from the Battle of Hastings and the start of the Norman dynasty of kings. The abbey was consecrated in 1121. At the Dissolution the townspeople bought the abbey church to be their parish church for the cost of the metal in the lead roof and the bells. It is now the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin.

We walk all the way around the church and come back to our starting point before pushing at the small door within the larger doors, which swings open obligingly to let us into the church. I looked for a sign to tell me whether or not I could take photos but there wasn't one, so I assumed that I could. I changed the settings on the camera so that I could take photos without flash though as I always feel it obtrusive and disrespectful to others to keep firing off sudden bursts of light.

The beautiful intricately carved wooden cover for the font. Behind it is a roll call of Tewkesbury's Fallen from the First World War.

A significant battle of the Wars of the Roses was the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471. Present were the Duke of Somerset, Earl of Devon and Edward Prince of Wales for Lancaster and facing them King Edward IV and his brothers, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future King Richard III). The defeated Lancastrians claimed sanctuary in the Abbey, but were forcibly removed and killed. George, Duke of Clarence was later executed for treason. Famously in legend (and in Shakespeare's play Richard III) he was asked how he wished to die, and replied "Drowned in good red wine!". So the story goes that he was forced into a butt (105 gallons) of malmsey wine. Certainly he was not beheaded as was usual for a prisoner of such status, as his body has been exhumed and found to be still firmly attached to his head. His wife Isabel Neville, a daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, owned the lands around Tewkesbury and both she and George are buried in a crypt behind the High Altar.

I'm not sure whose tomb this was. There are several tombs in the abbey from the families: Beauchamp (Earls and Countesses of Warwick); Despenser (they have an entire war named after them from their revolt against King Edward II in the 1320s) and Fitzhamon (faithful to William I and II, one family member covering the corpse of William Rufus with his cloak and then remaining loyal to Henry I afterwards, he was one of the founders of Tewkesbury Abbey).

It was whilst going into the shop to ask whose this tomb was that I saw the sign for photo permits and coughed up quickly, the assistant laughing that I must have been feeling guilty! And she didn't know whose tomb it was...

I always struggle to know what's going on in the paintings within stained glass windows and this is no exception. There's an angel up top either beating out or fanning the flames coming from a church or tomb. Underneath three men, one a king and the other two not, pray to the angel to get on with it, whilst on the right four women pray for the opposite. Perhaps... At the bottom a person in red is paying a kneeling crippled man with a crutch whilst a king presumably (purple robes and gold underneath) is either looking on humbly or just holding his cloak shut because there's a wind... It's all beyond me...

A nice bit of wall painting. I would guess that the wall has cracked and moved apart at one point and been filled in with cement as the top bit of the painting is definitely out of alignment.

And we're out again! The path leads from the doorway to the centre of Tewkesbury that we have no time to see on this visit.

After all the rain during our stay in the Cotswolds, today is hot and sunny! Until the next trip...

Cotswolds Holiday Index

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...

Cotswolds Holiday Index

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Rain at Random in Chipping Campden

Monday 5 June 2017. We had left Evesham and are now in a very picturesque market town called Chipping Campden. Unfortunately the rain is still with us too...

In moving from Evesham we have crossed from Worcestershire into Gloucestershire, but so subtle was the crossing that we never even noticed... Chipping Campden is another of the towns built with that lovely honey-coloured Cotswolds limestone.

We passed a little door with worn lettering over it. It reads: "SCHOLA GRAMMATICA 1487 J.F." Despite the date, the building dates back only to the 1620s. The school had been originally founded in the 1400s it is true but probably around 1440. What the significance of 1487 was has been lost. Schooldays were a mere twelve hours long when the school was new.

From the days when recommendation by way of recognition by the Automobile Association was thought to require signs a little more impressive than a small placque on the wall. The A.A. started recognising quality in hotels back in 1908 and introduced the star system a little later in 1912.

As we walked down the high street a woman walked towards us with two dogs. They were just absolutely gorgeous. If there was to be a new film about Enid Blyton's Famous Five then they were the spitting image of illustrator Eileen Soper's Timmy. I couldn't help exclaiming and came away from the encounter with somewhat licked hands... The dogs had joined in too...

I had been hoping to revisit a tiny but haphazardly crammed museum that we saw (on another rainy day) some twenty years ago. I couldn't remember just where it was so we entered the tiny Tourist Information Office just in time to be greeted with a strident clarion call from one of the two staff. "I heard that!" exclaimed the other one jovially, then noticed us and the subject changed suddenly. I explained (as quickly as I could) what we were looking for, but apparently the museum had closed some time ago. A great shame. [cough] Right... we'll be off then...

The High Street has an old market hall, that we will see shortly, which stands on a little island of space between the High Street and a little road that cuts off round the back of the hall rejoining the High Street at the other end. We turned round at this point as the rain was getting harder and Miss Franny had spotted a tea room where we could get shelter and a spot of tiffin.

Chipping Campden market hall. The town was a centre of the wool trade in the Middle Ages. The market hall dates from 1627.

The cobble stones of the floor have worn a little unevenly over the last 500 years but the hall is still as impressive as it must have been in the days when you couldn't move for stalls of balls of Sirdar and knitting patterns with a young Roger Moore modelling cardigans. Who knows what sordid acts people got up to? A sign at one end warns: "No persons shall cause annoyance to others using the market hall by improper acts." There you are... do it proper...!

By this time Miss Franny is standing impatiently outside the Bantam Tea Rooms into which you descend from the High Street by way of a few steps. Hmmm... Perhaps that's why it's called the high street...

Once inside we found a table near the old unused fireplace and were soon getting ourselves around tea and scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Sigh...

Cotswolds Holiday Index

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Creeping Bentgrass at Myerscough College Open Day

This year is the sixteenth year we have played this particular event. We always have to keep a wary eye on the weather as with any outdoor gig, but this year apart from one short but quite heavy shower and a bit of wind which made a gazebo near us think it wanted to be a kite, we managed very well.

You can usually find us opposite the entrance to the college bar - The Stumble Inn - so on a really good day we can have quite a large audience sitting at tables or just standing about, drinking and enjoying the music.

And it even got warm enough for me to get all giddy and take my jacket off!

Friday, 16 June 2017

A Surprise at The Gateway Tea Rooms

Monday 5 June 2017. We are in Evesham, Worcestershire and having traipsed round the shops, Market Place and Abbey Grounds, we look for somewhere to sit down with a drink. That somewhere is The Gateway Tea Rooms on a corner of the Market Place and it has something rather special to show us.

First impressions are of your average standard English tea rooms. Similar establishments can be found almost anywhere in the country, especially where they are housed in an old building in a town frequented by tourists.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I love tea rooms. We are great coffee drinkers (albeit very weak coffee by most people's standards) but there's something about drinking tea in a tea room that appeals to me. It's an english tradition and as such it needs people to carry on the tradition lest it dies out. Who needs to wait ten minutes whilst someone farts about with a noisy machine making a bucket of coffee anyway? A bit of Instant in a cup and add hot water and you can serve ten people whilst the "barista" (pah!) is still banging the grounds out of his ridiculously expensive equipment.

The Gateway served a good cup of tea in a proper teacup with a saucer. Pastries, cakes, sausage rolls and fruit pies were on display to tempt us, as were bottles of cordials. A few people came and went and it was when a group who had been sitting in the corner by the fireplace got up to leave that I spied a glow coming from a square shape next to the fireplace.

I couldn't make out what it was from where we were sitting so I got up and trundled over, to have a look. This was amazing! Set into a recessed space was what looked like a scale model of a transept or chancel of a cathedral. It was bare of furniture - no pews or monuments - but the tracery of stonework on the ceilings, the detail of stained glass in the windows was brilliant. I nipped into the the room behind the fireplace but the external detail had not been added.

Even so, just look at this. This model was about 18 inches tall by 12 inches across. The "stained glass" had been drawn on tissue paper and the interior was lit through it, producing the wonderful effect you see here. The owner told us that it was a model of part of Amiens Cathedral in France. It had been made in 1915 by a Mr Frederick Beck, who had obviously been impressed with the real thing that he must have seen either in pre-war years or as a member of the Services during World War One. What his connection with the cafe or it's past owners was has been lost to history, but it is thought that this was just a part of a larger model of the full cathedral. What an undertaking!

By the time we left the cafe it was drizzling again outside. Not to be put off, we set off down the hill to see the river, passing yet more black and white timbered buildings, including this courtyard with the upper storey joining the buildings on either side, over the entrance to what were presumably stables at one time.

Aw look, come on... I can't visit every tea rooms you know... There was a sign on the pavement pointing to "Tom's Barbers", but I've no idea who Tom was or why I should be expected to go there just because he does... Should it not be "Tom The Barber"? Specialisation really had it in for the barbering trade. At one point they were the one and only place to go to, not only for a haircut, but for bad teeth to be pulled, amputations and all manner of surgery. Most people now have forgotten or have never known that the familiar red and white striped pole represents blood on a bandage... And all with just one pair of scissors...

We approach the bottom of Bridge Street and there in front of us is a bridge. That's uncanny... And what a splendid humpty-backed thing it is too. The house on the corner is rather splendid also. I've no idea what it is or was, but you can't help but be impressed with the size of the chimney on the top!

Ah... and now we've got here it's decided to start raining in earnest. Thankfully we're in Evesham... No it's raining here too, and rather exposed on top of this bridge so we take a look and then head off back up the hill to find the car. The river is the River Avon - one of four River Avons in England. This is sometimes called Shakespeare's Avon. It runs from Naseby in Northamptonshire (where the Civil War battle was fought) and runs through Stratford-upon-Avon to Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire where it joins the River Severn. The name derives from the old Celtic "abona", meaning "river".

Cotswolds Holiday Index

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Short Break in The Cotswolds - Evesham

We're in the middle of several gigs with the band - our busy time. We had hoped to get away for a week, but then another booking came in for mid-week so we decided to make the most of it and went off on Sunday 4 June for three nights at a farmhouse B&B just outside Broadway in Worcestershire, but near the border with Gloucestershire. The weather was a bit wet but we managed to dodge most of it after the first day which involved getting drenched in Broadway itself. This did result in us nipping into the local museum which was excellent and well worth the modest entrance fee.

After an excellent breakfast at Smallbrook Cottage we looked at the rain and thought a larger town with shopping precincts might be our best bet for the day and Evesham was the nearest to us. This wonderful building on the Market Place is a branch of Nat. West, but somehow I don't think it was purpose built...

Another corner of the Market Place. We'll have a look at The Gateway Tea Rooms in the next article -I promise it will be worth it. Peeping over the rooftops is the Bell Tower of Evesham Abbey, not quite the only remains of the abbey, but perhaps the most impressive. We'll visit the Abbey Grounds in a few moments.

Also on a corner of the Market Place is the Town Hall with a dial wind direction indicator, thermometer and barometer. We didn't need any of them to know it was raining...

Evesham has some excellent black and white pubs in the town centre. We start with The Royal Oak.

Ye Olde Red Horse stands opposite a small triangular green upon which stands the old stocks - with a very uncomfortable-looking thin plank end-on for a seat. None of your cushy wooden benches here for miscreants... But at least a wooden gable structure provides shelter from the rain.

At the rear of the triangular garden was The Old Almonry, originally a part of Evesham's abbey.

We pass through the gateway in the Almonry and come to a group of churches that occupy spots previously taken by the various buildings of the old abbey. St Lawrence church is seen on the right, the Abbey Bell Tower centre and All Saints Parish Church is on the left.

Of the actual abbey itself notwithstanding the Bell Tower this is the biggest chunk of masonry left.

The Dissolution of Henry VIII was the death knell of the abbey and it's relics, but this modern altar-like monument is on the site of the original tomb of Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester (c.1208 – 4 August 1265). He rebelled against King Henry III and became for a short while the ruler of England. In the space of a year he called two Parliaments, one of which stripped the king of Absolute Power and the other included ordinary men from towns. Consequently he is regarded as inventing modern parliamentary democracy. However at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 he was killed by men loyal to the king.

Cotswolds Holiday Index