Summertime Santa

If someone was to ask for some excellent advice at the moment, I would suggest not having high tea at Buckland Manor and “Don’t dive off the little bridges of Bourton on the Water because the ‘water’ is about six inches deep and nine parts wee.

I’d also say “Don’t try and reach Belas Knap by using the postcode.”

If you use the postcode published everywhere, you will wind up down a rapidly narrowing road, at least five miles away from Belas Knap with no way to get there but by reversing.

And, yes, I realise that’s why Nicktor carries an A-Z in the car and why he doesn’t rely on technology. Which clearly demonstrates he doesn’t need to tell me that because I’ve learned my lesson. Possibly.

The plan today had been quite simple. We’d start soft and slow, Mirinda would go for a walk then we’d go and check out the Neolithic long barrow before indulging in a high tea at Buckland Manor.

The slow start and long walk were both hugely successful though we didn’t see Al this morning and were forced inside the cafe because of the cycle crowd. There’s always a crowd of cyclists at the cafe. Never the same cyclists, you understand, but all in lycra and all taking up space.

Blockley is up a very steep hill and is surrounded by even steeper ones. I guess that makes it an ideal stopping spot for recovery. Actually, the walk up to Belas Knap is also very steep. First there’s a woodland furrow rising up almost vertically followed by a big grassy field.

The big grassy field has been crossed diagonally so many times that a wide path has been worn through it. This path is in direct contravention of a small sign at the bottom telling people to walk around the edge of the field rather than through the middle.

I admit I started walking up the diagonal but my excuse was that someone was unhelpfully leaning against the small sign and I didn’t see it until I returned. A friendly local told us we shouldn’t before we saw the sign but after we’d already walked halfway up. And, to be fair, he was also walking up the diagonal path.

In the end, we only managed halfway up before turning around and heading back to Max. The added trip to the location of the postcode had depleted our visit time and we had a high tea appointment to keep. Not even a glimpse of Belas Knap was to be had today.

Buckland Manor is a rather expensive looking secluded country club type place at one end of the tiny group of buildings called Buckland. There’s a church next door. Literally. Apparently there’s some stained glass in the church which came from Hailes Abbey. William Morris paid for it to be releaded and put in the church.

We didn’t visit the church. In fact we were lucky to actually have our booked high tea.

Following the government announcement about mask use on Saturday, places like Buckland Manor have become a bit Draconian in their approach.

The receptionist who greeted us at the front door and shot us in the head with a heat detecting laser, told us we would have to wear a mask in the inside common areas. This was as a chap left the toilet and walked into the lounge without a mask. Mirinda was not best pleased and I was prepared to leave.

We didn’t leave and, after an initial wrestle for an outside terrace table, we settled down for a rather huge high tea. At least I thought it was huge. Mirinda assured me that the one she had with Bob and Fi last year was three times the size.

It was all delicious and the tea especially so. We managed to spend a goodly amount of time exciting our usually carb free taste buds with sugary delights.

We have booked in for dinner at Buckland Manor on our last night but given the mask rules, we will probably now cancel. It’s a bit sad because it’s the kind of place we normally love visiting. Maybe one day, when things return to some sort of normal, we’ll return. I somehow doubt it.

Anyway, social conditions aside, the tea was lovely and we left full of sweet things.

Mirinda didn’t really want to just go back to the cottage, particularly after the failed attempt to visit Belas Knap, so we drove to Bourton on Water. We figured it was quite late in the day and the tourists would all have gone home. Boy, were we wrong.

The water which Bourton is on, is a small, narrow and very shallow stream which rushes along beside the road yet set far enough away to be a favourite playground for kids of all types. Families dotted the banks on blankets or benches or just grass, distributing food and drink as the little ones splashed about. Oft-times the adults did their own bit of splashing about as well.

Along the path, every now and then, small concrete bridges spanned the stream. Only one was for cars, the rest for pedestrian travel between banks. Though quite a few people were happy to use the water.

Described by some people as the Venice of the Cotswolds, probably by someone who has never been to the Venice of Italy, Bourton on the Water is an extremely popular spot on a sunny Sunday in August. While crowded, it was very pleasant watching children do what children should do while their parents grabbed some valuable social time with relatives and friends.

The fact that social distancing appeared not to have reached Bourton was also a delight worth relishing.

The only thing that I disliked about our visit to Bourton was the three motorcycles outside the Car Museum. Not for the first time I wondered why people (nearly always men) have to turn their bikes on and, rather than ride off, sit and deafen everyone. I guess it’s because they lack any sort of empathy.

Speaking of the Car Museum, we admired the new Green Mini on display, convincing us that we should probably trade Max in for the new environmentally friendly model.

Having completed a rough circumnavigation of the town, we headed back to the car. On the way a small child of about six gave me an odd, quizzical look as we walked by. Mirinda reckoned it was because he was trying to work out if I was Santa Claus on my summer holidays. True, it was that kind of look.

We regained Max and went on a driving tour of the Slaughters.

At one point we stopped the car and admired the quiet beauty of the Cotswold landscape. Having just come from the crowds of Bourton, the silence was almost as deafening as the motor bikes had been.

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Foamy beef fat

Things weren’t going very well for Charles I in 1646. A lot of his forces were changing sides and he was rapidly running out of cannon fodder. He had at least one stalwart buddy. Sir Jacob Astley managed to cobble together a field army of 3,000 which he marched towards Oxford. It didn’t get any further than Stow-on-the-Wold.

Like Sir Jacob, my memories of Stow will not be particularly pleasant. My first impressions are of crowds and far too many cars doing battle for control of the town. To be entirely fair, we were part of that battle for a short while.

We were in Stow in order to fulfil a request made by Lauren. She’d found a photograph of a particularly Hobbit-y church door and, given we would be in the Cotswolds, she didn’t see why we couldn’t visit it.

The church is St Edwards and, while at first it doesn’t appear all that special (people are not presently allowed in so I can’t really comment on it), around the back, the porch door features two strangely placed yew trees.

The church bore witness to the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold which took place just across the road in the market square but, otherwise, the most remarkable thing is the trees.

Why they were left to grow there is anyone’s guess. Maybe they hold some magical properties which allow the church to exist in two realms, one of fact and the other of fiction. Maybe the trees are a pair of witches who got the spell wrong having turned a king into a church rather than a rock.

Whatever the reason behind the decision to leave them in place, guarding the south door of the church, it certainly attracts camera ready tourists. There was almost a queue to get a photo.

It’s a pity that we didn’t have a camera ready yesterday morning. We may have managed to get an excellent photo of a rampaging herd of bullocks in our street.

Mirinda managed to see two of them yesterday morning as they clopped up the street looking a bit confused. According to Al there were about 26 doing the rounds of Lower Blockley. They destroyed a bit of expensive landscaping and generally caused a bit of beefy mayhem.

Al is a chap who lives across the road with whom Mirinda has formed a bit of connection. They originally met at the cafe and talk most mornings now that we are considered part of the village population.

The first time they talked, he mentioned to Mirinda that there’s a resident owl in a tree behind his house. When Mirinda told me I thought she said Al so that’s who he is now. I have no idea what his actual name is.

Apparently, Al said, the bullocks had done it before. They somehow know how to escape the relative freedom of their home paddock and rather enjoy a bit of gang related damage. He claimed it was something different in a place that rarely changes.

It wasn’t our only beef related occurrence today.

Back when we originally decided to spend this little while holidaying in the Cotswolds I came across a small restaurant called 5 North Street in Winchcombe (http://www.5northstreetrestaurant.co.uk/). The food and the story both looked amazing. I managed to book and tonight we went.

We had the taster menu, obviously, and thoroughly enjoyed it but, possibly the most amazing part of the meal was the bread. Two, tiny loafs seemingly baked together yet of different variety. One white, one grain.

And with the bread, a stone, laden with butter and a foamy dome which, we learned, was home made beef lard. Both were superb.

As amazing as the foamy beef was, possibly my favourite course was the scallop. Mind you, it’s very difficult to separate the seven slices of brilliance on plates that was set before us as the evening progressed.

As the evening progressed we fell into conversation with the couple at the next table. They had had their wedding reception in the restaurant and now returned each anniversary (this was their tenth). They loved it. As Mirinda suggested, it was their ‘Celebration Restaurant’ like the Chesil is ours. They agreed saying, as well as on their anniversary, they also dined there every Christmas Eve with the same diners.

We also talked about the relative differences between living in the town versus the city. The woman said she wanted to live, isolated, on top of a mountain with the closest human being a farmer who lived at the bottom and supplied her food needs. The man she’d been married to for ten years and been living with for 20 odd years before that, had no idea this was the plan. It was suggested that he hadn’t been included in the plan.

She also told us about her one and only visit to Broadway Tower. She vomited, she proudly proclaimed, when she ran an ultra marathon which concluded with a final 400 metres up the steep hill to the tower. At the time she offered to kiss the marshal who was urging her on for the final push but told him about the vomit. The kiss was not given.

The vomit has long gone but Broadway Tower, an idea of our old chum Capability Brown, can be seen for miles around as well as laying out the countryside for miles around from the summit of the hill upon which it sits.

George William, better known as the 6th Earl of Coventry, owned a huge slice of the countryside and Brown suggested he put a Tower on the highest bit. With the help of renowned architect James Wyatt the so-called Saxon Tower was completed in 1798, overlooking a pre-medieval trading route and atop a beacon hill.

Apparently, from the viewing platform at the top, you can see 16 counties. It was closed by the time we arrived on our way to dinner so we had to settle from the view from the top of the hill. Even so, it was pretty amazing.

On our first day, when we visited Broadway, the trapped Australian told us to visit the tower on a bright and sunny day. Which was what today was. He was right. It was worth the wait.

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When the bailiffs pop round

Quite by accident, over the years, we have stumbled across Cistercian abbeys. It’s possibly not surprising as there were a lot of them set up way back when. They spread out from Citeaux in Burgundy where the Cistercians started in 1098. By 1200 a single abbey had spawned 525 others across Europe preaching and adhering to the teachings of St Benedict.

Our own Waverley Abbey is, of course, the very first Cistercian Abbey set up in the UK (founded 1128) and is a ruin we often visit. Or drag visitors around with the intention of impressing them.

Then, a few years ago, we stumbled upon Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Provence. Because Henry VIII wasn’t French, French abbeys survived into the future so places like Sénanque not only remain standing and intact, they are also still going concerns with monks and produce still living out lives of quiet and contemplation. And tourism.

Today we visited another British Cistercian abbey. It is called Hailes Abbey and, like Waverley, it is a ruin.

Hailes is set in an isolated vale, a hill to one side and an invisible stream that once supplied the abbey with water. The Cistercian ideal.

The abbey was started in 1242 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209-72). He had survived a rather nasty boat ride and, thinking that some divine power had saved him, decided to pay homage in that ostentatious way some wealthy people do, he funded an abbey.

Richard was the second son of King John and King Henry III’s brother. A Prince Harry type situation but without the media attention. His dad had already set up Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire so Richard decided to go with the same religious version. Maybe it was the only one he knew. I don’t know.

Richard, his wife Sanchia and a bunch of monks, set off from Beaulieu, in search of a location. Six days later, they decided that Hailes was ideal. Well, apart from the village that was already there. Not that the village proved too much of a problem. Richard simply had it removed.

The Cistercians, you see, needed to set up their abbeys ‘far from the concourse of men’ or in the middle of nowhere. Where the concourse of men was too close, they just had it moved. I have no idea what happened to the villagers of Hailles who suddenly found their village gone when they returned from tending their fields. They just fade away from history.

So builders are found somewhere (maybe the villagers of Hailles?) and this massive building complex is knocked up, seemingly overnight.

Photo taken from English Heritage guidebook which is why it’s covered in little red boxed numbers

It took five years. I bet that wouldn’t happen these days. I mean the Woolmead and Brightwell schemes in Farnham are taking significantly longer. Mind you, they don’t have the king’s son to crack the whip over the workers I guess. Or god.

The greatest moment in the life of the monastery was when some flim flam man sold them a glass vial of Christ’s blood, collected from the cross as it dripped from his wounds. This brought them many, many pilgrims (tourists) who turned up after hearing about it from…wherever they received their news back then.

Of course everyone believed this glass vial of blood, collected over 1200 years before, had once flowed in Christ’s veins. While it was a boon for local tourism for a long while, eventually it proved the abbey’s downfall.

Ann Boleyn denounced it as an ‘abomynable abuse’ of pilgrims to Hailes and Bishop John Hilsey more or less finished it off by saying it was nothing more than clarified honey coloured with saffron. It’s not recorded how he came to that conclusion. Unless he tasted it of course. Which is entirely possible though it was a very small glass vial. And probably off.

Of course, the buildings came crashing down when Henry VIII decided to dissolve them all, eventually reducing them to wonderful English Heritage visitor centres, something Henry is rarely credited with.

And now, today, we spent a glorious couple of hours wandering around, unmolested by royalty, religion or face masks. The sun beat down and the remaining walls rose around us (and the other tourists who’d booked into the same time slot as us or where simply left over picnic people) as we followed in the footsteps of long dead monks.

Actually, had it not been a ruin, we would have had to wear face masks and not touch anything. Which just proves that Henry VIII was truly thinking ahead.

Our visit followed another wander around Blockley with Mirinda in the lead.

After our usual coffee at the cafe, where they’re gradually recognising us, we ventured across a couple of fields and through a tiny wood.

We walked by the Witchey Tree* and stood quizzically trying to work out what a strange standalone building was before, eventually heading back to the cottage. After Hailes we also wound up back at the cottage to sit out the heat before heading off to Chipping Campden for dinner with Michael.

I spotted Michael’s Mediterranean Restaurant (phone 01386 840826 or visit https://michaelsmediterranean.co.uk/) when we were wandering around the town the other day. I picked it because it promised moussaka. Little did I know that it also included that other favourite of mine: grilled sardines.

Then, to my even greater delight, I discovered they serve affogato for dessert. I declared that this was now my favourite restaurant EVAH.

And it was all absolutely delicious and thoroughly enjoyed.

Almost as good as the food was the fact that the staff wore clear plastic visors rather than hot and sweaty inadequate face coverings and Michael, who came out and did a sort of chatty wander around the diners, wore nothing. On his face.

It all felt almost normal

The other thing that felt normal today was the fact that the Hailes parish church was open to visitors. This is probably because it has been de-consecrated, something that viruses can’t abide. We were free to wander around the tiny church at our leisure.

The church predates the abbey and survived the removal of the village. It served as the church for the monks then the lay brethren and pilgrims.

It is a simple, small church with little in the way of embellishment except for an incredible series of frescoes on the walls. From heraldic symbols to strange animals, from a giant St Christopher to a hunting scene with a giant hare, the images are fragmentary but still vibrant and colourful. It gives a hint as to how the church would have originally looked.

An amazing find which made an excellent conclusion to our Abbey Day Tour.

* Witchey Tree is not an actual named thing. It is a dead tree in a field which could have been a witch who turned herself into a tree after turning a king into a stone. At least that’s what we think.

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Cześć Jego Pamięci

Shortly after the end of World War II, Britain was a lot less racist than it appears to be today. The country realised the debt of gratitude it owed to many different nationals and was prepared to pay that debt in kindness and humanity.

Poland suffered massively from the onslaught of the populist fascism that threatened to destroy most of the world’s rights and, as a result, many refugees fled persecution. Many of these refugees were welcomed in Britain.

I’m sure there were some people who didn’t like the idea of foreigners being allowed to live in the UK but they were in the minority, a tiny and despised voice in the dusty corners of society. Most Brits were glad to help people in dire need hoping that if they were put in the same position, someone would help them.

Refugee camps were set up in various towns around the country. One such camp was in Blockley. The camp doesn’t exist any more but a reminder of its presence is in Blockley Cemetery.

The graves of 122 Polish refugees, mostly marked with identical crosses, bear witness to their lives and deaths. Almost all of them bear identical plaques with a name, date of birth, date of death and the wish to ‘Honour Their Memory’ that they would never be forgotten.

We accidentally found the cemetery today, after our coffee, when Mirinda once more took up her guiding stick and sallied forth.

The cemetery isn’t in any guides we’ve found so we were a bit mystified when we first came across the rows of identical graves. The plaques are in Polish, identical in all but the details. We managed to piece together some information from one written in English but, basically, I found out a lot more from visiting Polish Graves in Blockley Cemetery, an amazing webpage.

Our walk continued around the less than historically significant part of town until we returned to the path of the Blockley Brook where a fine old mill stands. I say ‘fine old mill’ but you can’t see it. A lot of the old mills have been converted into private residences and the sort of people who renovate old mills can afford to hide them out of sight behind trees, hedges and walls. Which is a shame.

Rather than keep to the road, Mirinda headed onto a public footpath that took us along the route of the brook then up beside a field of nervous sheep where we watched an unidentifiable bird of prey as it shrieked to something we couldn’t see. It was quite eerie.

We also scared a bird in a tree which shot out of the branches like a scalded cat and flew away. Again, it was impossible to identify before it vanished into a tree about a mile away.

It was a lovely walk, not steep with a path not overgrown with too many nettles. Finally, though, it had to end and we came out on an unmade road which gradually became made as it headed down to our street.

It was a lovely walk which warranted a nice long rest before we headed out to the National Trust garden at Hidcote.

As some sort of defence against the plague, the National Trust has instituted a booking procedure to access their properties. Well, the ones that are opened that is. Hidcote, fortunately, is open so we booked a couple of member tickets for today at 4pm.

We were questioned at the gate by a very personable young man who ticked us off and directed us to the entrance. We were then once more ticked off and directed towards the garden with the instruction that there were two routes (long and short) with some benches.

Mirinda wasn’t best pleased by all the instructions but managed to keep it to herself (and me, obviously) and we entered the most amazing garden I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of gardens.

An American, Lawrence Johnstone brought his mother, Gertrude, to England in 1900 in order to become British. He fought in the Boer War and World War I while Gertie remarried a chap called Winthrop. In 1907, Gertie purchased Hidcote Manor Estate.

They were both (I don’t know about Gertie’s husband though the cafe is named after him) quite keen on the Arts and Crafts Movement and in 1910 Lawrence set to work to create a perfect Arts and Crafts garden.

After World War II, Lawrence decided to move to his garden in France and entrusted Hidcote to the National Trust. Clearly these people were quite well off. Though I don’t know what happened to Lawrence’s wealthy stockbroker father, his mother or the mysterious Mr Winthrop.

Anyway, the garden is a triumph.

One of the highlights was the view from the Wilderness.

You walk from a ‘room’ containing a big bathing pool and surrounded by high hedges, into a wooded section with meandering cut grass paths through it. Signs informing visitors that, because of the absence of staff due to Lockdown, the place has been taken over by rabbits, badgers and moles, are dotted around. This is why, the signs explain, there are holes everywhere.

It also explains the weeds that have started to appear. And I don’t deny that I took great delight in pointing out nettles and bind weed whenever I found them.

But the view across a patchwork of fields from the Wilderness was enough to stop people in their tracks. Fortunately this is where the benches were, ready to catch those stupefied into immobility. Or with wobbly feet, like me.

The photo doesn’t do the view justice. Also the clouds make the day look quite awful but it wasn’t. Well, actually it was awful in that it was quite humid but it never looked like rain. Though it did rain at one stage when we were in the cottage, only realising it had rained when we left. Most of the day was bright and sunny.

After spending a very long time wandering around the delightful garden, following the perfectly mapped out route, we headed back to Blockley for a bit of refreshment from the Great Western Arms.

Eventually it was time to head out to Broadway for dinner at the Lygon Arms. A 17th Century coaching inn, the Lygon is huge and luxurious. The restaurant boasts that it serves excellent food. The restaurant is correct. As well as a fine dining hall, they also have an excellent cellar.

In fact, we were very lucky to test the cellar. I ordered a bottle of Spanish white but it didn’t turn up. After our starters, the Head Girl asked us if everything was okay. I politely enquired about the location of our wine. She asked us to wait and she’d sort it out.

True to her word she returned very quickly with our bottle of wine in her hand. She explained that our waitress who took the order had somehow screwed up and not delivered it to the table. The waitress wouldn’t be giving us any more bad service as she’d been taken outside and shot. I tasted the wine and it was delightfully cold, crisp yet full of flavour.

The wine was great, managing to wash away the memory of last night’s rioja. The food, though, was exceptional. The Gloucester Old Spot pork offerings were amazing. I had the pork belly which bought together two of my greatest loves: Gloucester Old Spot and pork belly. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mirinda, rather oddly, ordered fish. It was like Freaky Friday on a Thursday. Her salmon was delicious.

However, the special surprise was the peanut butter ice cream.

Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love trying odd ice cream flavours. There’s been cheese, basil and tomato, mashed potato, garlic, etc and now I can add peanut butter to the list. Mirinda thought I was a bit mad because I don’t like peanut butter but I assured her that given I loved peanuts, all should be well if they were reduced to an ice cream.

And it was all fine. The ice cream definitely tasted of peanuts but not peanut butter. It was accompanied by a chocolate and amaretto tart which was also pretty good..

The only thing wrong with the Lygon Arms was the masks. The masks on the staff were enough to make us not return. No matter how lovely the food and how perfect the staff, I don’t want to be served by someone forced to wear a mask.

We talked to a porter who admitted that he found lugging bags up three floors was bad enough but it was a lot worse while wearing a mask. Breathing was difficult. His denial of oxygen was enough to convince me that anyone’s insistence in mask wearing is inhuman.

In future if we turn up somewhere where the staff have to wear masks, we’ll just go somewhere else. I don’t believe in making staff suffer for the sake of appalling government policy.

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We’ve got 20 minutes before we go to Wales

In around 1850, Lucy Russell gave the village of Blockley an outlet to a local spring for the use of the locals. RB Belcher (who I mentioned the other day in reference to the riot of 1878) decided it needed something quite stately to remember her by. He had his grandson carve an inscription around a rather grandiose Grecian style frontage.

Lucy was an amazing woman. The daughter of a master silk ‘throwster’ she knew how to run a silk mill and beat the male mill owners at their own game. Her husband, William, purchased the Malvern Mill (opposite the spring) and it was very quickly the best of the best in Blockley.

The Russells were rewarded for their labours by becoming incredibly rich. Lucy decided to give back to the village and, along with the spring spout, she also endowed the poor, old people and children with trusts, some of which continue today.

Fast forward to 1994 and a water bottling company tried to get their grubby hands on the water rights but, in a celebrated legal hearing, were refused. What delighted the locals most was that the courts verified their ownership of the spring. They still drink from it.

This reminded me of a documentary I watched a few years ago. It concerned Nestlé and their habit of going to towns with a natural spring, buying up the bottling rights then selling the water back to the locals. The documentary also taught me one of my favourite things: The best and freshest tap water in the world is on the island of Manhattan where the most water is purchased in bottles.

Not that that’s particularly relevant.

Today Mirinda took us on a self guided tour of Blockley from the cafe to the other end of the high street which becomes a ‘muddy bridleway’. There is an amazing number of interesting buildings along the route. The map we have gives tantalising glimpses into the histories of them.

The map is available, we assured a fellow traveller who asked, at the village shop (turn left at the door and they’re above the ice cream). It is called ‘Walks in Blockley Village: Buildings of historical and archaeological interest’ and only costs £2.

It was a long and enjoyable walk. The rain tried to ruin it but could only manage to muster a few drops. A chap screwing a light fitting to an outside wall mentioned that the weather didn’t look promising but Mirinda assured him it wouldn’t rain and he could keep working.

An overheard conversation during our walk gave me the title for this post. A small child (about 6?) wanted to know how a movie ended and suggested she could watch it before leaving for Wales. Her mother assured her it would take longer than 20 minutes to watch the movie.

Walk over, we had lunch then, basically, lazed around the cottage for a couple of hours just reading and enjoying the nothing that every holiday should have some of.

We then went and saw the Roll Right Stones.

First up it was the Kings (sic) Men Stone Circle.

Apparently it’s not easy to count the number of stones in this circle of them. In fact, if you get the same total three times in a row you will get a wish. Exact number aside, the info board says there is 70 odd. I would give a broad estimate of between 20 and 100.

Mind you, originally there were a lot more. Experts have estimated that the rocks formed a continuous wall rather than the one with gaps that’s there today.

The tallest stone, so legend has it, was taken down the hill to use as a bridge over the brook. It took 24 horses and two men died when it flipped and flopped on the way down. Eventually the crops withered in the field and someone finally realised it was because they’d disturbed the big stone. It only took two horses to get it back up the hill with no fatalities. It was returned to it’s original spot and everything went back to normal.

Something not everyone sees in this stone circle is drumming Druids. To be fair, I’m not certain they were Druids but it did appear that they were trying to communicate with the stones by knocking out some Celtic tunes on their skin drums. It sounded quite good and made the whole visit quite mystic.

The stones were placed in the circle in about 2500BC and were possibly used for religious ceremonies. I need to add that this is the general cop out explanation for anything that archaeologists don’t understand. I mean it could have been for religious ceremony but it could easily have also been a place for a regular market, a venue for stand-up comedy or a safe space for children to play in. I guess it could also have been somewhere to fight. We will never know. Though the Druids appeared convinced it was probably religious.

From the circle we made our way around a field to the Whispering Knights.

This is the remains of a burial chamber dated at around 3800BC. It would have originally looked like a dolmen with upright portals and a very heavy roof. These days it’s a pile of very large stones protected by an iron fence. Mind you, the fence doesn’t prevent the ‘knights’ from going down to the brook for a drink each New Year’s Day.

It was remarkably windy, which explains why I’m not wearing my hat in the above photo. The wind happily died down when it was time to visit the king.

Across the road where cars whiz by at mach 4 is a lonely, single stone, not quite in visual contact with the village of Long Compton. There’s a reason for this.

The story goes that a local king met a witch. She challenged him, for reasons known only to her, with the statement “Seven long strides shalt thou take and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be.”

The king thought this was a good idea, not realising there was a catch. He strode off but didn’t make the distance, the brow of the hill hiding any view of the small village. Shit, thought the king as the ground came up and engulfed him.

Naturally, as these things go, the witch cackled and recited:

As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shall not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone, for King of England thou shalt be none. Thou and thou men hoar stones shall be and I myself an eldern tree.

I get that she had to turn the king into a stone and, though it’s a bit tough on them, his men as well but why she had to turn into a tree is beyond me. Seems a bit self defeating. The witch wouldn’t be turning anyone else into rocks I guess.

There’s a bit of a mixed message in the witches curse. The Eldern Tree (or Elder as we call it) was, the Druids thought, where the Earth Mother lived or rather all elder trees led to her house. I’m not sure that she’d allow some random and horrid witch to just become another door to her domain.

Another theory is that the stone marks a burial site from around 1600BC give or take a thousand years. Excavations in the 1980’s found a burial cairn next to the king and a second burial containing the cremated remains of a child. Another burial urn was discovered close by as well.

The remains of wooden markers were also found near the burials, leading archaeologists to figure that the stone was erected to replace the wooden markers which, obviously, rotted away. The kind of thing we do now. A fresh grave is generally marked with a wooden cross until a stone memorial replaces it, probably for the same reason.

Or, perhaps the memorials appearing in graveyards everywhere are actually stone versions of the occupants, placed there by a vindictive tree that once was a witch. We will never know.

Our visit to the king and his men marked the end of our tourist activities today. We returned to the cottage where Mirinda entertained me with some guitar playing and singing until it was time to head out for dinner.

Generally on holiday we wander around and find somewhere to eat but in these days of plague, booking is pretty essential. This has made it difficult to find anywhere, given we don’t know the area. Still, I managed to find a place in Chipping Campden, the Noel Arms, which I booked for tonight. It marked our first meal out.

We sat in the bar for a pre-dinner drink while our table was being sterilised. Mirinda discovered what ‘vertical drinking’ was from the barman, which is what’s happening in the photo above.

Dinner was fine – good, hearty pub food – though my light spicy fishcake could have done with some salt. The wine, however, was not so fine.

I think I’ve been spoiled by drinking too much good wine so that, unless I’m already drunk, cheap wine tastes awful. The problem here was they didn’t have a wine list so I had to ask for a bottle of rioja. After a first sip I realised I should have gone for a merlot.

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Feathers everywhere

A few years ago, while in France with the Weasels, I bought a Joan of Arc t-shirt. I’ve worn it many, many times and, up until today, no-one has ever said anything about it. That all changed today with two people mentioning it.

The first person was the vicar of the Blockley church. When asked if the church was open, she told us that it wasn’t but let us have a wander around while she was there. I think she had an upcoming funeral to officiate.

Just before we went into the church she looked at my t-shirt and asked why Joan. I was tempted to justify my wearing of a religious icon along with my atheist views but decided, instead, to just say I was a big fan. A little later, it occurred to me that she probably thought I was a Catholic. It’s a pity it wasn’t a Saint Sebastien t-shirt given that he’s supposed to protect us from the plague.

The vicar was lovely and told us lots of interesting things about her church. She started telling us about a secret staircase but was interrupted by Mirinda who said she had seen it outside, where the small stained glass slits are. The vicar was most complimentary about Mirinda’s powers of observation.

I rather liked this small stained glass window in the porch.

The second instance of Joan Recognition was a bit odd. We were walking down Chipping Campden high street. I was slowly progressing along the narrow footpath and an older woman moved to one side to let me pass.

Obviously I wasn’t going very fast. She looked at me and said “Come on, Joan! You can do it!

She did make me laugh.

We were in Chipping Campden for a wander around the unexpected remains of the extensive and expensive estate of Sir Baptist Hicks.

Of the main house there remains nothing. Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is a bit of wall in the middle of a field which I think was part of the original house. Sadly, the entire place was burned to the ground by a bunch of Royalists during the Civil War.

Baptist Hicks (1551-1629) was ridiculously wealthy. His estate was like a mini-kingdom with canals, shopping malls and a small airport. That may be an exaggeration but it did have water gardens and terraces. I think he was the sort of chap who could bend the landscape to his will by throwing money at it.

While the estate is now little more than a field with some amazing structures dotted around it, one of his descendants still lives in the attached barn. Now that’s wealthy.

We wandered all the way around the field, trying to piece together the fragments into some sort of whole. And failed. Any information I found was later, from Wikipedia. In fact, my first thoughts were that it was some sort of monastery attached to St James’ church.

Having been amazed at Baptist Hicks’ house, we then went for a wander around the church. Of course, it was closed. Yet another example of how people don’t actually believe in god. If god really existed, surely he would protect his flock. Or, he would take them into his keeping for all eternity in some pre-ordained mysterious plan.

Speaking of death, the churchyard was littered with feathers. It looked like someone had had a number of devastating pillow fights around the gravestones.

I encountered a fellow looking up at the tower. He explained to me that there was a pair of peregrine falcons living in the tower and they would pluck a pigeon from the air, take it to the top and pluck it. Feathers then just floated down to the ground.

It’s all very brutal yet wonderful to realise that life (and pigeon death) goes on regardless of the human stupidity surrounding everything at the moment. Like the 50% off food thing.

We had a drink and some nibbles at the Lygon Arms in Chipping Campden and the woman who totted up our bill went through all sorts of rigmarole to work out the total cost minus alcohol then halved it in order to charge it to the government.

I really don’t understand the government. Heaps of people have to visit food banks because they can’t afford to shop let alone eat out and yet the Tories decide it’s a good idea to pay half our eating out bills. Wouldn’t it be better to give the people visiting food banks vouchers to spend in supermarkets on food?

It was the second time I’d come across the 50% off thing today.

After we’d finished pottering around the cottage in the morning, we wandered up to the Blockley cafe where we had cakes. I know, I know, that’s very naughty and I think I suffered for it later but I do find carrot cake very hard to resist.

Anyway, when I went to pay the bill, the woman took half off and stapled the receipts together. All completely unnecessary.

After our coffee and cake, Mirinda took us on a guided tour of Blockley, taking in such sites as St Georges Terrace, the original police station outside of which the 1878 Riot took place and, of course, the house in which Patton and Eisenhower met to discuss the D-Day arrangements.

The house was originally called Peyton House and was built by a successful miller, Joseph Peyton, in around 1800. The name then changed at some point to Paxton House and became, in 1943, the HQ of the American Super Six division.

Now, Paxton House doesn’t even look lived in.

Rather oddly, once we returned from our wander, I started feeling quite ill. I started shivering and had a headache. I didn’t bring a fleece so I had to wear Mirinda’s baby blue one. It was lovely and warm.

When we returned from Chipping Campden, I went upstairs to bed for a few hours. I felt awful.

Two hours later, I felt a lot better. Though not well enough to eat, I did watch Ophelia with Mirinda. It was an excellent film: Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view.

I have no idea what was wrong with me. Perhaps I got a chill. Or it was the carrot cake.

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Richard Belcher writes…

Today we met a Queenslander, living in the chocolate box perfection of the postcard village of Broadway. His story was one of love and loss, and being exiled by circumstances beyond his control. A story that stretched from Brisbane to London, to Guildford then the Cotswolds.

Late last year he found himself married and living in Surrey. The marriage wasn’t working out and he found himself no longer married and ready to go home. He was intending to backpack around the world, gradually walking the long way home. The coronavirus put paid to that.

So, instead of tramping across plains and mountains, he decided to go into exile in Broadway, working in a pub. And meeting us. All very surreal.

The other surreal thing about today was the discovery of the Blockley Riot of 1878.

It seems that there were more pubs in Blockley than people back in 1878. The townspeople, it would appear, were inebriated most of the time. This led to a lot of poaching, or so Richard Belcher claimed. Belcher was a regular letter writer to the Evesham Journal Herald.

While the lead up to the night of the actual riot may have been because of a few stolen rabbits and fallen boughs of trees*, the actual ruckus was a little more tangible.

The entire blame could be lain at the door of Sergeant Dury, erstwhile local copper. Not one for the intricacies of police relations with the public, he was more au fait with heavy-handed rough housing. And the locals didn’t like it.

Rather than holding some sort of public or royal commission into the behaviour of the police, the locals figured that such heavy-handed treatment should be sorted with heavy-handed treatment in return. Mind you, there was a sort of Trial by Drinkers in a local pub.

On the night of the riot, Drury was involved in a violent altercation with a chap called Jones. The fight resulted in the policeman receiving a black eye. Jones trotted off to his favourite pub, The Crown, and, no doubt, told everyone in the bar about his victory over officialdom.

Drury wasn’t particularly liked in the town so I’m sure there was a lot of laughter in the bar. Drury, however, was also not one to take the effrontery of a black eye lying down. He headed up to The Crown with the intention of settling the score with Mr Jones.

I don’t think Drury was thinking very clearly. He surely couldn’t have been under the impression that Jones would be drinking alone, drowning his sorrows with only bar staff for company.

As soon as Drury popped his head through the door, the mood changed from one of cruel jibes to something akin to a lynching. As one, the drinking horde surged towards the policeman. Drury, staring his own mortality squarely in the eye, reversed direction and ran for the relative safety of the new police station.

The door of the police station proved to be a slight barrier to the mob as they kicked it down and dragged Drury out into the street.

A street, incidentally, upon which we find ourselves staying at the moment. Not that the police station is there any more. In fact, I’m fairly certain there’s no police station anywhere in Blockley these days.

There is a very nice cafe, though, where we took our midday coffee today.

Mirinda had spent the morning working on her new article, perched high up on the garden (not) attached to the cottage while I worked on researching a few of the Surrey fallen, listening to Radio 3 in the comfort of the inside of the cottage.

The cafe was very busy. A big group inside were taking a lot of the service staff and spreading them quite thin as we waited. Not that we were the only ones waiting. A fair few people gathered outside, waiting for their take away orders, masks slipping and grumbles starting.

One particularly vociferous lady, possibly the head of the local WI, was amazed at the crowd. Mind you, her discussion with two other ladies soon moved on to the more important news that her hairdresser wasn’t as good as the one in Broadway where a second lady had had hers done in the week.

On close inspection of both the ladies in question, I was astounded that anyone could see any difference in their hair. They both sported blonde bobs of identical lengths. It was all very serious though.

Having enjoyed our coffee to the accompaniment of some delightful local grumbling, Mirinda led us on a meandering walk back to the cottage. We then had lunch before heading out to Broadway. Which was our adventure for the day.

When I say ‘adventure’ I mean we sat outside at the Broadway Hotel for a drink before walking up and down the high street, admiring the warmth and delights of this Lilliput Lane made real.

Donning masks to walk around an antique shop, we realised that it wasn’t a lot of fun so we left pretty quickly. Once the mask rule is abandoned, we shall re-enter shops. Until then, there’s always the Internet. And just walking up and down the high street.

Back at the cottage, I made dinner before we settled down to watch the Kimmy Schmidt interactive movie, Kimmy Vs the Reverend. Riotously funny and very entertaining.

Speaking of which, Sergeant Drury, having been dragged out into the street was beaten up a bit before being rescued by a couple of chaps who protected him (and his family) until order was restored and the drinkers returned to their beer and the riot ended.

Of course there was justice, of a sort. A few Blockley men were handed sentences at the Midsummer Sessions at Worcester but, as Mr Belcher mentioned at the time, a lot of the so-called ring leaders were not locals and had escaped conviction by leaving town.

It’s quite hard to imagine a riot erupting on the streets of Blockley in 2020. Or in Broadway. Mind you, if the economy continues the way it’s going, riots may just be around the corner. Though, rather than a policeman, it might be a politician being dragged out and held responsible.

Interestingly, the clock attached to the building in the photo above has been fixed a few times. It was originally gifted to the town of Broadway by public subscription to commemorate the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It was then repaired on the Coronation of QEII in 1953 and again repaired on her jubilee.

I’m surprised they didn’t buy a more reliable clock.

* The tree bough story is a bit strange. Apparently a high wind had blown a rather large branch of a tree across a road, blocking traffic. A local chap, helpfully cleared the branch, loaded it on his cart and took it home. He unloaded it and thought nothing of it. Well, until the landowner appeared and accused him of stealing it. Maybe Mr Belcher was right.

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Dead salmon and the parrot bags

This evening, sitting in the Great Western Arms in Blockley, Gloucestershire, we raised a glass to being away. We both felt the day had been a long one but it felt great to be ‘somewhere else’. In this Plague Year, our travel distances have been decidedly limited.

Our previous longest drive has been to Arlesford, 21 miles away. Today we drove 100 miles and wound up in the Cotswolds. As I said, it felt good.

Okay, the puppies didn’t feel too good about it when we dropped them off at the kennel but they never do. We were discussing their habit of shivering whenever we leave them. Interestingly they never carry on when we leave them with Sue. In fact, I’m sure Emma prefers staying with Sue than us.

Mind you, their shivering soon stopped when the woman at the kennels stooped down and said hello to them. They suddenly realised they knew her and trotted happily off to their accommodation for the next fortnight.

Most of the day was then spent packing and preparing the house. With the advent of a greenhouse, there is lots to do with regards to the garden. Watering systems to prime, neighbours to strong arm into helping, etc. It was all pretty much go, go, go.

We also made a trip to Waitrose to save us having to find a supermarket when we arrived. This of course meant a lot of extra packing but, given we’re not catching a ferry and hiring a car in St Malo, this was just a case of filling Max.

Actually, the food and extra baggage made our two suitcases of clothes look quite meagre.

Eventually we climbed into Max and headed north.

Two hours later we pulled up outside the weaver’s cottage we’ll be living in for a bit. We unpacked Max, quickly filling the little fridge, had a cup of tea/coffee and happily discovered the TV had Netflix.

Refreshed, we then headed out for a bit of a wander around the town.

Blockley has an impressive church (St Peter and St Paul) and a lottery funded shop/cafe. It also has a lovely green space in the middle complete with war memorial, bowls club and play area with a slide that ends in a rather steep fall that seems to vanish into an abyss.

We gave up looking for the Crown Hotel and, instead, ended up at the Great Western Arms.

Social distancing has emptied the pub of most of its tables and chairs. It has also meant that the bar staff serve you at your table. It’s all a bit odd but it was very pleasant. We had a drink before heading back down to the cottage.

Ours is on the right of the photograph. It’s the first of the three storey places – the windows of the first storey are open. The small, single storey section to the right of it is the kitchen.

I spent a bit of time in the kitchen knocking up dinner before we settled down to finishing season three of The Crown.

It’s great to finally be away.

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Young Charlie Chilcott

Today marked a bit of a milestone in our house. Normally, when I play the latest Talking Newspaper recording, Mirinda will announce, after a bit, that she’s had enough. I change it from general broadcast, lock myself away somewhere and just listen alone.

Today, however, she actually listened to the entire recording. Even the sport. Even the cricket report in the sport section. Mind you, I bribed her by saying she had to wait for my Nicktor mention.

Speaking of cricket, I had another lovely couple of hours at Frensham again today following our brunch at the Holly Bush. This week it wasn’t interrupted by rain although we did have a fair old sprinkling at one point which had a family of spectators running for their umbrellas.

The game was between Frensham 3rd XI and Farncombe 3rd XI. Frensham chose to field and, at first, it seemed the decision was wrong with the Farncombe batsmen hitting boundaries all over the place. But, having checked the score later, the Frensham team came out winners.

There was a big moment early on when young Charlie Chilcott (he looked about 12) came on to bowl. He conceded a few runs but he showed a lot of promise. He looked to me like quite an intelligent bowler, mixing up his pace enough to baffle the batsman.

Charlie only had three overs to impress and he didn’t take a wicket but I reckon his performance will earn him another start in the future.

The only reason I know about him is because the skipper yelled to the the scorer that the new bowler was ‘Young Charlie Chilcott!” He was also given a lot of encouragement by his captain both in bowling and fielding.

There was one moment of high drama.

At one point, one of the batsman held up his hand to stop play. He spoke to the wicket keeper as he pointed up the hill. Standing, watching was an older chap, his bike resting against his legs. The batsman was pointing at this chap.

Suddenly everyone on the field turned towards him, as did all the spectators (about 20 people). A voice came from the outfield:

Can you take off your hi-viz jacket please sir? Or move? It’s distracting the batsman.

I don’t think the cyclist was used to being the centre of attention. He quickly removed the jacket and then pedalled his bike away. The game continued.

All up it made for a most enjoyable couple of hours following an equally enjoyable brunch in the Street Shack.

Sally (the Holly Bush owner) explained that her husband had built it all during lockdown. It’s a marvellous use of the back section of the beer garden. We were very comfortable.

On a glorious summer’s morning, it was a perfect way to indulge in eggs, sausages and mushroom, washed down with a latte.

Back at home, as I said, we listened to the FATN recording. And I can’t fault Mirinda’s decision to listen all the way through. It really went very well. While my reader didn’t get what anyone would call ‘chatty’ he did ad lib a few times. I think we were both entertaining and newsy in equal measure.

After it finished, I said that I hoped someone else (other than us) actually listened to it.

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Don’t assume old people are stupid

For years I’ve been using the automatic postage machines in the Post office. I use them at Christmas for the traditional sending of the calendars for one thing. I tend to use them in preference to going to the counter because there’s normally a queue at the latter while general avoidance through fear for the former.

Back in the day when the Post Office was just the Post Office, there were helpful staff members who would stand by the machines and ask if you needed assistance. The first time, yes, they did help but the machines are not particularly difficult and I was soon competent.

Fast forward to this morning.

Now the Post office has been rehoused at the back of WH Smith’s, I’m not sure that the staff are Royal Mail employees. However, if they are, they certainly don’t get the same training as the helpful ones I mentioned earlier.

I accept I’m getting on. I use a walking stuck and I drag a shopping trolley behind me but that doesn’t make me stupid. When I approach a bit of technology I expect a friendly and helpful staff member to ask me if I need assistance. This is not what happened today.

When asked what I was after I said a stamp to Australia. The staff member then took over the whole operation, talking me through the procedure as the procedure was progressing. I did wonder how this was any different to queuing up and being served at the counter.

The staff member was also speaking louder than necessary (I guess it was figured I was deaf as well as old and incompetent) as the on-screen buttons were pushed.

I know a lot of people have difficulties with new technology (both young and old) but it’s not really good manners to assume stupidity.

After posting my letter (the staff member even told me how to put it into the post box) I wandered home via East Street. It’s been a while and, as a social historian, I figured it was time for another photo of the East Street Development.

Work stopped during Lockdown because they couldn’t work out how to get the workers to the site when they generally travelled 15 to a car. That hurdle seems to have been climbed over now and the buildings are taking shape. Well, except for the Marlborough Head which is still teetering on Acro props.

After my humiliating treatment at the Post Office, it was a lovely relief when Charles said that he considers me a charming eccentric. This was before we started the FATN recording this week.

Ann rostered me on with Robert. He is a bit…how can I put this? Dull? Unchatty? He was going to be a tough nut to crack. That sounds a bit harsh. He’s a lovely fellow and, obviously, willing to give up his time for the hard of seeing. However, it’s also true that he just reads his pieces with little personality between tracks.

I think I managed to get a bit of life out of him. While not quite sparkling it did seem to spark a bit.

The recording went very well. I felt a lot better about my presenting given the last one I did. I’m looking forward to hearing it back tomorrow.

Best of all was the sports report where I discovered this photo:

Written beneath it was ‘Pictures by Nick Cansfield’ something I’d not noticed during editing. It shows Andy Grimes of Liphook running for cover (their pun, not mine) as the rain started last Saturday. They were playing Peper Harrow in the I’Anson League.

Generally, when I read the local sports, I mention Nicktor. I think it gives the report a personal connection between the listener and me. It also gives me something to talk about with regard to the Mighty Shots and their generally unmighty performances. Hopefully the listeners know who I mean when I talk about him.

All in all and all other things considered, it was a very enjoyable session. Though I did miss bouncing off Ann.

Burned Out Bin UPDATE

I’m happy to report that the park management people have removed the bin completely.

This is an excellent development though I did notice a little pile of rubbish deposited near a bench just behind me. I guess people just need to express themselves through their waste.

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