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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