Crowds stop to watch

Note well: This was our only day without rain. And it was a gloriously blue sky day, chilly with a light breeze. And no rain. The whole place suddenly appears so much nicer when not viewed through curtains of water.

Eventually we left the cottage and headed out to Ashleworth, to see the famous tithe barn. Built sometime around 1496 by Abbot Newland, it is incredible. Massive doors, two sets of them, open up onto an equally massive space. Two sets of doors are very rare. As is such a complete medieval barn.

Tithe barn, Ashleworth, Gloucestershire

It’s cared for and maintained by the National Trust though the farmer gets to use it. The barn was built when the entire village came under the auspices of the Abbey of St Augustine in Bristol. The rest of the place is in private ownership now. All the buildings are equally amazing. If you ignore the telegraph wires, you could have stepped back in time. Oh, and the cars.

Just behind the barn and next to Ashleworth Court, stands the parish church, dedicated to both St Andrew and St Bartholomew. Parts of this lovely little church, date back to the Saxons. The distinctive herring bone pattern on the north wall, is very Saxon. It has had lots of changes, additions and subtractions over the centuries. Possibly the most interesting thing though is in the bell tower. The church obviously has a bunch of bell ringers and hanging up around the inside of the tower are all these boards proclaiming their achievements over the years. Even more interesting, however, is the bell ringer rules. My favourite is number 4, which states “Drinking, smoking, loud and boisterous talking or jesting, and above all disputing, are most unseemly amongst Gods ministers in His house and are strictly forbidden in this belfry.” Classic. Apparently swearing is ok as long as you don’t do it loudly.

Anyway, it’s a very cute little church and we enjoyed our visit but were soon on our way to Odda’s Chapel. We noticed a lot of low lying water everywhere, apparently some serious flooding has been going on round these parts. And then, a rather odd obstruction.

Suddenly before us in the road, a long stretch of country lane, there was an equally long line of stationary 4WDs. On the opposite side of the lane stood various country folk, some with binoculars fixed firmly to their eyes. Ah, we thought, twitchers watching for some rare sighting of a double breasted crap tapper or something.

Crowds stop to watch, Gloucestershire

Mirinda opened her window and asked a chap what they were watching and he replied, somewhat mystified that anyone needed to ask, the hunt. Still confused, Mirinda asked, hunting what? And then I saw them. A long line of men in red coats on horseback, chasing a bunch of beagles across the hill. “Foxes,” the chap on the side of the road said, helpfully.

Fox hunting is, of course, no longer legal in England however, they are allowed to scent hunt. This involves using a rag covered in fox scent which the master (I assume) of the hunt runs around the fields and the dogs chase and try and find. I guess it gives the gentry something pointless to do but I have to wonder about the bunch of people watching. For a start they were about a mile away and secondly, it was a Friday afternoon. Truly odd.

Odda’s Chapel is at Deerhurst, a small village just outside Tewkesbury. It was built in 1056 by Earl Odda in memory of his brother who died in Deerhurst. It is an excellent example of Anglo-Saxon construction and is empty…and cold. Big though. We were very impressed with the flood waters.

Odda's chapel, Deerhurst, Gloucestershire

And so, finally, on to Tewkesbury. I’m not sure if it’s the weather, but it’s a lovely town. Bright and Tudor and everything quintessential. I say Tudor because there are LOTS of Tudor buildings dotted along the high street, seemingly squeezed in between more modern structures. We sat in one nursing an afternoon, morning coffee. Strangely, there doesn’t appear to be many restaurants in Tewkesbury, none that are open on a Friday afternoon, anyway. LOTS of tea shops, quite a few coffee shops but restaurants? Nada.

We ended up in Burlington Berties. And I’m so glad we did. The food this trip has been rubbish. Not our usual great choice of brilliant food. More a case of the only choice is rubbish. But not at Burlington Berties. We had a lovely lunch. The shepherd’s pie was yum. Of course, it could have been because our taste buds had taken a beating over the week and by today they were ready to taste anything.

I had a bottle of ale while we ate. It was from Hook Norton Brewery which has as a motto: “Where progress is measured in pints”. I’m seriously thinking of having this tattooed to me somewhere. When I suggested this, Mirinda asked me what my next wife would think of it. At least I want it on my gravestone.

Tewkesbury regularly floods (there were particularly bad floods in 2007) as it’s situated between two rivers, the Avon and the Severn. Apart from the submerged cricket pitch, we stared open mouthed at the picnic area. The only reason we realised it WAS a picnic area was because you could just se the tops of the picnic benches peeking above the water. A local told us this was all perfectly normal for this time of year. There was a LOT of water.

Tewkesbury underwater, Gloucestershire

The big attraction in Tewkesbury is the Abbey which is now a parish church. A very big parish church, it has to be said. But before we could get inside, we were accosted by a local with his dogs who demanded to know where we were from. I said Surrey and he asked if I had an American accent. I said Australian and he decided to talk to us at great length. It turned out he was giving a speech that night and had included a letter from an Australian soldier back home to his family in Queensland. It was actually very funny but a bit odd that he talked to us and found us to be Australian.

Actually I have a couple of theories. Firstly, he wandered around all day just asking people who looked like tourists where they came from, hoping he’d find an Australian so he could try the joke out on someone, perhaps because there’d be an Australian in the audience and he didn’t want to upset them. Or, secondly, he had a whole pocket of speeches, each with a different country joke and each time he found out a person’s nationality, he’d give them a joke. Whichever, he was a nice enough chap with lovely dogs…just a bit odd.

The church is HUGE. It also does something that really annoys me. Now, I always donate money when we visit churches. I love visiting them and have no problem helping to preserve them. Generally there’s a slot in the wall and a guide to the church. But then you get the bigger ones, like the abbey at Tewkesbury, which not only suggests a donation for entry but also asks you to pay for a permit in order to take photographs! As Mirinda says, they have to try everything to keep afloat but this really pisses me off. So I didn’t take any photos. And I don’t think I’ll bother saying anything about the church, except that it was full of people setting up for the Christmas Fair taking place on Saturday, which gave it an air of a market place rather than a place of worship. Not that I care but I believe I’ve read that Jesus wasn’t that keen when the buyers and sellers took over the church in Jerusalem. Didn’t he say “…make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.

A pretty uneventful drive home – sadly Mirinda didn’t get to see the giant beehive, or the tiny church; we’ll never know which it was – except for a lot of traffic leaving Gloucester. We watched a DVD then bed. Early start tomorrow. We should be home in three hours.

Did I mention it didn’t rain today?

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