Sunday, 1 March 2015


The weather has done a complete somersault, there are shafts of pale gold light playing on the windows, forget-me-not blue skies, and long shadows dancing across the meadows. It even feels warm out in the sunshine, a moment to savour, pack a picnic, and be outdoors.
Having received some interesting comments on my last post regarding the Saxon cross, it rekindled my interest in two local Saxon buildings.
Deerhurst is a small hamlet consisting of a farm and a handful of houses lying in a vale close to the mighty River Severn. It has the very rare distinction of having both a Saxon Priory, now the parish church, and a Saxon Chapel. 
Odda's Chapel is one of the most complete Saxon churches in England, and dates to the period shortly before the Norman Conquest. It was completed in 1056 by Earl Odda who was one of the most powerful of Edward the Confessor's nobles. It is just a simple two cell church composed of a nave and chancel and appears to have fallen out of use during the C13th  
During the C16th a large Tudor farmhouse was built called Abbots Court, and the Saxon chapel was incorporated into it. The chapel nave was used as a kitchen and the chancel as a bedchamber; all memory of the chapel was thus forgotten. It was undiscovered for centuries, its walls hidden amidst the rambling rooms of the farmhouse. 
In 1856 the Rev. George Butterworth, a scholar, was intrigued by an entry he found in the chronicles of Tewkesbury Abbey which described a church opposite the entrance to Deerhurst Priory.
Tewkesbury Abbey with its very tall unique Norman arch which
dwells just 3 miles north of Odda's Chapel
The Rev. Butterworth's second clue as to the whereabouts of the Saxon Chapel was even more compelling; it was the famous Saxon carved Odda's stone discovered in 1675 in a local orchard near to the Priory.
Latin translation
Earl Odda ordered this royal chapel to be built and dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity for the good of the soul of his brother Aelfric who died in this place. Bishop Ealdred dedicated it on April 12th in the 14th year of the reign of Edward, King of the English
i.e. in 1056 in the reign of Edward the Confessor 
The above stone is an exact replica of Odda's stone which is now preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
The North door and double splayed arched window showing Anglo-Saxon stonework. Other typical Anglo-Saxon features are the long and short stone quoins at the corner and the chapels tall proportions
The south side would have had a doorway opposite the north door but it has been blocked up
The south window still has some original oak framing, and at the bottom you can just see the arch from the north window showing
A sturdy Saxon arch divides the square ended chancel from the nave
Looking back down the nave which shows the beams that were installed to make an upper storey when incorporated into the farmhouse
A Little Sanctuary
by Admiral R A Hopwood
In the quiet Severn Valley, where it seemed as if at last 
Very peace had spread her wings on ev'ry hand,
Stood an old and battered farmhouse, where for generations past
Dwelt the yeomen and the tillers of the land.
Till in time the hand of progress came to try what could be done,
Both to modernise and renovate with care,
So they chipped away the plaster of the ages dead and gone
And they found - a little Saxon Chapel there.
The Saxon Priory, now the Parish Church of St. Mary's, is a two minute stroll away from the Chapel. I will show it in the next post, it is home to some of the oldest and rarest Saxon stone work.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

British treasures No 4

Eyam is located in the Derbyshire High Peaks 800 feet above sea level, and is known as the Plague village. Here stands an ancient cross, considered to be one of the finest in the country, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Grade 1 listed - a British treasure. I wonder how many people have passed this Saxon cross in St. Lawrence's churchyard without realising it's status. There is a small notice board stating that the cross is 8th century Celtic; it is carved with both Pagan and Christian imagery. The cross dates from the period in British history when Pagan beliefs still abounded and Christianity was a minority faith. This cross pre-dates the 13th century church in Eyam by 500 hundred years. There are several other Saxon crosses in Derbyshire but the one in Eyam churchyard is the most outstanding being almost intact. It is notable for the survival of the head, but sadly the top two feet of the shaft are missing. It was placed in the churchyard many years ago after it was removed from a nearby cart track. At one time it is thought to have been used as a wayside preaching cross years before the establishment of the church in Eyam. It has also been suggested that this cross may originally have lain on a piece of remote moorland just outside Eyam village, where there are several Neolithic remains including a Stone Circle, and a Long Barrow to be found. 
British Treasure No. 3 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Paradise Lost

The fungus Cylindrocladium buxicola, or Volutella buxi, may be both, has settled in our garden over the last few months - commonly known as Box blight. It is believed to have arrived in the UK during 1994 from Central America  
Along with lawns, Buxus sempervirens is the green structure in our garden, it forms cuffs around the trees, edges pathways, we have balls and cones large and small everywhere. 
It is the green element that graces our garden all year round and holds the design together. 

We are devastated but slowly coming to terms with the fact that the only answer is to destroy and burn the lot.
This fungus blight is not picky it has also devastated Prince Charles's garden. As the crow flies his Highgrove garden is just a short distance from us.

There is another garden that shares our hilltop eerie, whose owners are equally passionate about box and  topiary.
She happens to be a leading light in The European Boxwood & Topiary Society. Do we tell them? or let them continue to live happily in ignorant bliss? May be the wretched fungus will pass their garden by!  

To finish on a positive note, lets just check out what is flowering in the garden at the moment

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Valentine's Day

Alphonse Karr
Amaryllis - apple blossom 
Cyclamen - miniature 

Snowdrops gathered in the garden

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Rev. Wilbert Awdry 1911-1997

Thomas the Tank Engine and all the other anthropomorphic train books written by the Rev. Awdry have graced bookshelves around the world. 
Thomas, painted blue and red, and displaying the number one was first and foremost the favourite engine, closely followed by Thomas's best friends Percy and Toby.
The stories origins lie in tales told by the Rev. Awdry to his son Christopher. They featured a small blue wooden train, made by Wilbert, but bearing no resemblance to the book and film illustrations seen today. 

Wilbert Awdry was born near Romsey, Hampshire, in 1911, and his love of trains came from his father, who was also a vicar. Wilbert spent several years living in Palestine and it was there that he met his wife Margaret. 
He was a priest for 60 years, but in 1965 his ministry took him to the parish church of Rodborough in the Cotswolds where he lived for 30 years until his death in 1997.
In 1996 work began on a stained glass window in Rodborough church dedicated to Awdry's 60 years of ministry.
The window was commissioned from stained glass artist and designer, Alfred Fisher, but Rev. Awdry collaborated with Fisher on ideas for the window.
Wilbert, however, sadly died just before the window was installed. The chosen themes were: The spiritual significance of everyday objects; Children; The four elements; Caring for others; "Thomas & Friends"
The inscription "God be in my eyes" unites the two halves of the window 
The Christian values and morals that Wilbert always spoke of can be seen in the helping hand given to the child at the foot of the tree
The four elements weave their way through each scene linking the windows message
Our eyes linger on the rather wistful faces of 'Thomas' and his friend 
but then we notice the particularly memorable, but poignant image of Wilbert, closing the train shed door for the final time 
Wilbert with Margaret reading to Christopher
Once asked how he would like to be remembered. Wilbert puffed on one of his beloved old pipes and replied: "I should like my epitaph to say, 'He helped people to see God in the ordinary things of life, and he made children laugh.' "
I was reminded of this local Cotswold window when Mike from 'bit about Britain' mentioned the Rev Awdry in a recent post

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Tarr Steps, Exmoor

Late January, and nodding snowdrops greet us in Dulverton, Somerset. We were fortunate, at this time of year the flowers could have been hidden under a layer of snow.  
Dulverton lies on the southern edge of Exmoor's National Park - Europe's first International Dark Skies Reserve. Tucked in at the entrance to a deeply wooded valley Dulverton is known for its close location to a pre-historic clapper bridge called Tarr Steps 

Many are the folk tales surrounding this ancient river crossing some of which talk of the Devil himself
Canoeing is allowed downstream of Tarr Steps only between mid October and the end of March when water levels are high. Upstream it is not allowed at any time to prevent disturbing developing fish eggs. Curiously, as can be observed from these photos, downstream of Tarr Steps the River Barle is rough and fast, whereas upstream it is shallow and calm. 
A sure-foot is required when crossing this ancient scheduled monument, understood to date back as far as 1000 BC
The water eddies around the supporting stones then gurgles merrily on its journey beneath the clapper bridge 

Close by the steps are burial mounds of Bronze Age men - did they use this same crossing point in the river?

The surrounding woodland is mainly Oak, Beech, Ash, Sycamore, and Hazel which was once coppiced to provide charcoal for the local iron smelting industry. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest abounding in wildlife - Red Deer, Dormice, the rare Barbastelle Bat along with Otters that feed along this unpolluted fast flowing river
Atlantic salmon that hatch in the River Barle, may journey as far away as Greenland before returning years later to spawn. For rivers to be suitable for salmon they need unpolluted, cool, well oxygenated water along with clean gravel on the riverbed for spawning, these are exactly the conditions that are found in this river.
The steeply banked very narrow country lanes in this area were all impressively maintained. The grassy banks were trimmed and the hedgerows atop were neatly cut ready to greet the forthcoming spring.