Tuesday 29 September 2020

Holiday Postcards

We have been away, staying close to the W.Somerset/N.Devon borders. Just as we left home, our lovely warm 'Indian Summer' slipped away, replaced by more typically late September weather. Following a hearty breakfast at the hotel, sufficient to sustain us throughout the whole day, we set off in search of the tiny village of Selworthy. Sitting snuggled within a deeply wooded hillside, in a timeless rural landscape of thatched cottages, a medieval church, and enjoying sweeping views across the Vale of Porlock to Exmoor. 

You could be forgiven for thinking that the village of Selworthy appears to have a faux appearance, and it is true that the thatched cottages are certainly far younger than the medieval church, but they are still 200 years old. They were built in the 1820s by Sir Richard Acland in order to house both the aged and infirm who had worked for him on his Holnicote Estate. During the early reign of Queen Victoria, many wealthy employers looked after their staff really well.

The cottages nestle together around a small village green halfway up the steep hillside. They are all painted in a shade of ochre, one is now a small cafe, another has a gallery, one of the cottages can be rented for holidays, and the rest are privately owned. The surrounding woods have lots of walks meandering through them revealing interesting places to explore, including the ancient earthworks of Bury Castle, a memorial hut erected in 1878 to Sir Thomas Dyke Acland by his youngest son, and by walking to the top of the escarpment it is possible to find yourself on the 630 mile long S.W. coastal Path, now internationally familiar to the many who have read Raynor Winn's book, The Salt Path. 

If you have not been inside an English thatched cottage then there is a tendency to imagine that they are probably extremely dark, small, and gloomy inside.
This is Ivy's Cottage - you can peep inside here.  It is rented out by the National Trust. I am not advocating the cottage, this is simply so that you can see what a small thatched cottage can look like inside.

Monday 21 September 2020

Along the Towpath

Making the most of this late September warmth we have continued to explore various walks along the canal towpaths,
and are now more aware that autumns colours are slowly appearing.

Shall we go under, over, or around?

The Grey Heron and a Moorhen completely ignore us.

Clematis vitalba - Old Man's Beard
It is very peaceful, it feels good,


but is it? This wretched virus is on the rise again in several European countries.

This year there is a very strong recommendation from WHO and our own NHS that we should all have a winter Flu vaccination. Have you booked yours? My husband has already had his, and mine is due next week.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

The Days Grow Shorter...

.... but summer seems reluctant to bid farewell.
Ipomoea - Morning Glory 'Heavenly Blue'
It was late into the season before I planted these seeds, but better late never.
Phygelius - Cape Fuchsia
The deer that visit the garden love these small Begonias. They eat just the flowers, but then the plants fight back and grow new ones - we keep our fingers crossed that the deer will forget that they are here.
We drove down into one of our local valleys seeking shade - our hilltop was hot.
Then walked past this old stone mill, one of many that still occupy the valley. As one of the earliest cloth making areas, these mills helped to bring great wealth to the district - a legacy that can be traced right back to the 14th century. Italian merchants, in particular, clamoured to buy wool from the Cotswolds. It was said: "half the wealth of England rides on the back of a sheep."
The walk takes you between a local river to one side and a canal built in 1779 on the other. The valley, known as the Golden Valley, is what Queen Victoria called it when she viewed it from a train window on a visit here - so Golden it has remained. 
This small valley church was built in 1724 - the chief glory of this church lies in its Arts and Crafts Movement furnishing done by several of the early 19th century distinguished Cotswold craftsmen. 
Scattered up and down the hillside and along the valley are the many little cottages that were once lived in by the cloth weavers, and those who worked in the mills.
Most have now been extended and gentrified.
Time for home, a cup of tea,
and a good book.
George Szirtes is a prize winning poet and translator, but this is his first foray into writing prose. Last month The Photographer at Sixteen won him the prestigious James Tait Black Prize, and it has just been announced that in 2021 he will be one of the International Booker Prize judges.
As a family we have known George for many years - he taught our youngest son English at school, and offered helpful guidance to our eldest son with his poetry writing. 
Born in Budapest, George, his parents, and younger brother fled Hungary and came to England in 1956 during the uprising. He was eight years old, and vividly recalls their desperate escape.
As a young girl his mother's ambition was to be a photographer and eventually she became a photo journalist in Budapest. She struggled with displacement, battled poor health, and took her life when she was 51 years old. In his quest to try and unravel the enigmas surrounding his mother's life, George travels back through his own personal memory and into an unknown darker family history to discover his mother's secret past. During the war she was interned and survived two concentration camps, and lived with the awful memory of not knowing the fate of her family, who had all disappeared from their home in Transylvania. This previous life was an unknown revelation to George, he hadn't even perceived that his mother was Jewish, a fact that she had kept hidden, even within their family. 
Critic, Patrick McGuinness writes "it is those closest to us who remain the most mysterious."

Wednesday 9 September 2020

A Short Break

St Mary's Church, Hitchin
We have just spent a few days in Hertfordshire, an area that we moved away from more than 20 years ago. The visit was specifically to see our sons and hopefully some of our grandchildren - we have missed them all so much. We decided that perhaps it would be best if we stayed in a local hotel, and chose one that in a former life had been a Carmelite Priory.
Very little of the original Priory founded in 1317 remains, but brief glimpses of its former self can still be seen. The Priory was built from flint, rubble and clunch and in appearance its walls would have looked very similar to those of the local parish church above.
Example of flint and stone clunch used in a typical checkerboard pattern.
The Radcliffe family took up residence upon the dissolution and establishment of the Church of England in Henry Vlll's reign. The family bought the Priory Estate in 1548, remaining there until 1965, during which time they played an important part in the social and cultural development of the town. Most of the buildings that replaced the priory were built by the Radcliffe's during the Georgian period.
One of the particular delights of this property is the way that the local River Hiz meanders in and around the property. At the front of the property it forms an area similar to a duck pond having arrived at this spot through a series of pretty Georgian brick built bridges courtesy a chalk fed spring whose source is in the nearby village of Charlton. Where the ducks are swimming is the last complete view seen of the river before it disappears beneath the town. It then flows through an underground canal, built in the 1920s, but emerges briefly from time to time especially as it flows along the back of the churchyard. The canal continues the rivers journey to the northern side of the town where it finally departs to eventually meets up with the River Ivel.

Lovely old Georgian brickwork together with some of the remains of the original flint and rubble walls from the old priory.
I love these old bricks with their interesting colouring and shapes, but why don't we see lovely brickwork like this used today?

The Georgian home built by the Delmé Ratcliffe family.

Wednesday 2 September 2020

Holy Rood - a Saxon Church in Daglingworth

We are three miles outside Cirencester having driven up to Daglingworth via the Fosse Way - a road that is one of the greatest legacies left to us from the Roman period. Even today this straight long road links up Exeter, Bath, Cirencester, the Cotswolds, Leicester and Lincoln.
The ripple of gold in the oat fields, the berries festooning the hedgerows, and gardens laden with fruit and vegetables are prime indicators that September is now here. 
We have arrived in the Cotswold village of Daglingworth, where we are endeavouring to find our bearings as we seek their small Saxon church, but what is this that has just flown in?
I wonder if this juvenile Grey Heron has also lost its bearings? But I think not, judging by the pond weed clinging to his legs, he obviously knows and frequents the small stream that burbles through the village. 

As we wander the narrow lanes a young Dachshund barks voraciously at us - is he warning us off, or is he just seeking our attention? Tentatively, I wander over to him, he wags his tail, and obviously wants to be stroked. If he could jump down off his wall, then I think that he would happily join us on our walk. 

We spot Holy Rood and head up along Church Lane towards it, but as we draw near, we realise that a wedding is in progress.

However, we can bide our time in the churchyard until it is over. 

In the churchyard are the remains of what is thought to be a very early Christian meeting cross. It is where the villagers would have gathered to listen to a preacher and say prayers long before the Saxon church was even built. 

Suddenly the silence is broken as the church bells ring out their joyous message across the valley, and then the newly married couple appear.  
We enjoyed seeing the bride and groom and their guests as they departed for their reception. It made us feel that all's well in the world, even if it's not.
This little Saxon church was drastically 'restored' during the mid 19th century, but happily the four rare Anglo Saxon sculptures that we have come to see remain intact.

The first shows St. Peter clutching a book to his breast whilst in his other hand he holds a giant key aloft, and posed as if ready to unlock the gates to heaven. It is Romanesque in style and carved out of local Cotswold stone. 

The second sculpture is of Christ in Majesty with a cruciform halo. He is seated on a basic chair wearing a long garment with a simple opening at the neck, and fastened by a band around the waist. He is portrayed with a beard and moustache, and holds a cross in his left hand, whilst giving the benediction with his right.

The Crucifixion shows Christ bearded and moustached, he is represented on the cross as a large and dominant figure in comparison to the other figures - the Anglo Saxons disliked showing Christ as a broken man. The figures either side are Roman soldiers: one (Longinus) holds a lance with which he pierced Christ's side. The other (Stephaton) holds a vinegar-soaked sponge which he used to increase the pain of Christ's wounds.
All three sculptures are in a single artistic style and are considered to be the work of just one craftsman.
♱ ♱ ♱ ♱ ♱ ♱ ♱ ♱ ♱ ♱
These three plaques were found unexpectedly when the chancel arch was rebuilt in 1850. It appears that they had been reused by the original Anglo Saxon church builders (the sculptural images were hidden, facing inwards) and used to form the vertical jambs to the chancel arch, presumably having been discarded. Nikolaus Pevsner, the eminent architectural historian, suggests that this must surely point to the fact that they are, in fact, much earlier than this 10th century Saxon church. He suggests that they are 8th/9th century or possibly even earlier, so there is a strong likelihood that these carvings are over 1200 years old. 

The smallest piece showing the Crucifixion has suffered badly from weathering. It was originally sited outside on the East Gable end of the church, before being removed and brought inside for safety.