Monday, 18 September 2023

A Hidden Gem

Our small town museum is housed in a 17th century Grade 11 listed Cotswold stone mansion house once the home of a local wealthy wool merchant. The museum houses a great variety of interesting artifacts. They reveal a rich, and diverse history about the people who have lived and worked in the surrounding valleys from the earliest settlers through to the present day. With over 4,000 objects on display there is something of interest for every age. There are locally found dinosaur and mamoth bones, Roman remains, the world's first lawnmower,  invented locally, historical paintings and importantly the story of wool that brought great wealth to the area courtesy the backs of the "lion" Cotswold sheep. According to a 12th Century saying, "in Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold". The Golden Fleece' obtained from the long-haired Cotswold Lion breed, thought to have be introduced by the Romans during their invasion, was widely renowned for its heavy wool clip.

The market towns in the Cotswolds would have been bustling with wealthy wool-merchants from rich cloth-making towns abroad who flocked to these hills to buy the wool. The enormous wealth engendered courtesy wool was responsible for the large number of fine "wool" churches, grand mansions, and civic buildings.

The museum is set in a charming wooded parkland filled with a huge variety of specimen trees. However, hidden away behind the mansion is a delightful walled garden which is free for all, as is the museum.

It was a beautiful balmy September day, the recent humidity having departed, so we decided to visit the garden, buy ourselves an ice cream in the Museum shop, and take a wander through the garden.
The garden was restored a few years ago, and is now solely maintained by several local volunteers, who do a great job.
A patchwork of Michaelmas Daisies - Symphyotrichum yield a colourful display. Usually associated with cottage gardens, they also work well in contemporary settings too.

"A final hurrah" from a Sunflower for this summer.

"The grasses beyond the garden wall are waist high, the September flowering of Michaelmas daisies heralds Autumn's arrival. But there was no autumn in the air today; the sun was still August, albeit calendar August was just a memory."

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Seeking Shadows

The country is currently sitting beneath a heat dome, loosely defined as an area of high pressure sitting over the same area for days, or even weeks. Hot air is trapped rather like a lid on a saucepan, pushing temperatures above what is normal for the time of the year. These current high temperatures are not to our liking; we prefer more temperate climes.

We packed a picnic and set off with hopes of finding some shade and cooler air in a local Cotswold garden. 

Buscot Park

In 1956 this estate was bequeathed to the NT by the 2nd Lord Faringdon, and the contents of the house were subsequently transferred to the Trustees of the Faringdon Collection. Lord Faringdon, a batchelor, was considered a controversial character at the time, being a politically, provocative, leftwing pacifist. He was the friend of artists, poets and painters, and gave shelter to Basque and Spanish exiles at the start of the Spanish Civil War. I like the sound of him. The current Lord Faringdon, his nephew, inherited the Buscot estate from his uncle and now administers the house and grounds on behalf of the NT.

Originally this first area of the garden was a kitchen garden but the current Lord Faringdon has changed it into a pleasure garden criss crossed by pathways, trees, walls, and interesting statuary.

Love this pathway lined with Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea' trees - Indian Bean Trees - we have one in our garden too. Now having seen these I think we missed a trick, we should have planted more too.

A steep pathway leads up from what was the old kitchen garden to a hilltop, upon which the 18thc house is built. It's position affords it wonderful uninterrupted views over the Oxfordshire countryside.

But we gave the house a miss and continued on our way. However, should you ever visit Buscot then the house is a must. It is filled with wonderful treasurers all set in a homely, and very tasteful setting. Many of the paintings are of world reknown, having been mainly collected by the 2nd Lord Faringdon "friend of artists". There is a wonderful series of paintings by the eminent Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones called The Legend of Briar Rose, which you can view here should you wish.

The current Lord Faringdon continues in his uncle's footsteps commissioning and collecting works by contemporary artists and sculptores. It is obvious from the garden and the interior of the property that both he and his wife have a very good eye.

This sycamore seed kinetic wind sculpture in the white garden is a fairly recent addition. It happily twirls around, as sycamore seeds do, to the slightest movement of the air. 
Having wandered through maybe half of the garden we cannot leave without taking the beautiful walk leading down to the lake.
The water rill, ponds and features were all laid out by the reknowned Edwardian designer, Harold Peto, in 1904.

You need more energy than we had in order to walk the rest of the garden - we still have a long trek back to find our car. We spent a soothing half hour watching the waterbirds; the herons flitting around the trees on the opposite side of the lake, and soaring kite and buzzard overhead.

As I post this, I am happy to say that today the humid air has passed, and we have even enjoyed a splash of rain, so no need to water our garden.

Tuesday, 29 August 2023

Eusebio Sempere (1923-1985).......

.......was a Spanish painter and sculptor whose work made him the most representative artist of the Kinetic art movement in Spain. His use of repetition of line and mastery of colour to manipulate the way light plays on the surface gives a three dimensional depth to his pictorial compositions.

A few years ago we travelled across the Spanish plains of La Mancha, the landscape of fame in the tales of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. We were journeying to the ancient city of Cuenca known for it's hanging houses. One of the many things we did on arrival was to visit the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art, housed in the wooden hanging property seen to the left of the photo. Eusebio Sempere was one of the important artists represented in their collection, and it is where I was first introduced to his work. I particularly admired one of his paintings and was delighted to discover a good replica of it in their gallery shop. It was carried home carefully, and now sits on one of our walls.

When I view it I am confused as to how he was able to create this effect using only paint. Although difficult to show here, the painting appears to have been achieved using hundreds of individual strands of cotton thread, but each strand has a variety of colours running along it - the painting totally deceives the eye. I really wanted to know what the image represented, I could see that it was a landscape. However, I have recently discovered the answer, thanks to Google, which makes it even more compelling for me to appreciate the fine details in his work. Eusebio calls it "campo de mimbre" - Wicker Fields, but this description was still not obvious to me until I came across the following photos revealing the wicker fields of La Mancha near Cuenca.

It is now clear that Eusebio has used the amazing colours seen in the wicker fields for his painting, which are apparently a tourist attraction during the Autumn months. In the painting it is now easy to spot the sky above the Plains of La Mancha, then the wicker fields, and finally the foothills of Cuenca in the foreground.

Friday, 18 August 2023

A Day of Delights

What a wet day! However, luckily for us we were comfortably ensconced inside a cosy Oxfordshire countryside Inn being treated to a delicious lunch, courtesy eldest son and family.

By the time that we departed and went our separate ways the day slowly began to brightened. Arriving home I wandered around the garden and was delighted to spot a lovely patch of blue and white Borage plants flowering.  Having been given a box of mixed wildflower seeds courtesy our local Wildlife Trust I had scattered them in the garden at the end of April. Now, to our delight, we have a lovely Borage patch flourishing.

Borago officinalis
Borago officinalis var. "Alba

Borage is a lovely plant to grow in the garden, an added bonus being that it is a great magnet to both bees and butterflies.

Although native to the Mediterranean region it grows well in most parts of northern Europe, and in fact worldwide . It is one of the many plants that arrived in Britain courtesy the Romans. It's common names are starflower, bee bush, bee bread, and is non-invasive. It is a medicinal herb with edible leaves, flowers, and stems which taste similar to cucumber. The young leaves can be mixed with other salad leaves and the edible flowers look very attractive when scattered across the top of a salad when entertaining. Popping some borage flowers into your ice cube tray will give your cooling summer drinks an added appeal.

Borage has been used for centuries due to its curative properties. The Romans appreciated the plant for its ability to enhance courage and endurance. During the middle ages European herbalists used borage to treat a wide array of ailments, including fevers, respiratory issues, and digestive disorders. 

In recent years, borage has experienced a revival of interest, as researches delve into its potential health advantages. Studies have started to uncover the numerous ways that it can support wellness and alleviate various health conditions. 

Saturday, 5 August 2023


The BBC have produced a ground breaking series telling the four and a half billion year story of the beautiful planet that we call home. The 5, one hour long episodes use the latest scientific evidence to take the viewer on a journey through some of the earth's most epic moments. It takes the first four hours of the series to reveal more than 4 billion years of momentous Earth events. It isn't until the last episode that Dinosaurs finally appear on Earth which they then inhabited for between 165 and 177 million years, until their demise. Their demise began 66 million years ago

Scientists have worked out that an asteroid the size of Mount Everest hit the surface of the Earth with so much force that it left a crater 90 miles wide, which resulted in 300 billion tons of sulphur being blasted into the atmosphere. 
Sulphur reflects sunlighted so this then triggered a period of total darkness and cold temperatures which lasted for 10 years.
Today the impact crater is buried underneath the Yucat√°n Peninsula on the coast of Mexico.

56 million years ago the Earth had warmed and even in the Arctic temperatures were around 23 degrees C. This warming period is studied by climate change scientists and is known as Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.  

34 million years ago the planet cooled again, wiping out primates in the northerly continents of North America and Europe. 

The oldest cave art is dated to around 45,000 years ago and found in Sulawesi, Indonesia. 

The presenter, Chris Packham, visits the caves at Niaux in Southern France, which we too have visited, where the Paleolithic art on the walls shows bison, ibex, and horses which have been dated to around 13,000 years ago.

During the final 12 minutes of the 5 hour long programme we finally arrive at 11,000 years ago when humans first began to farm the land and their impact on the Earth began. Today 40% of the land surface that isn't frozen is agricultural. Only 4% of all the mammals alive today are wild animals, 96% are humans, their pets or domestic farm animals. The human population as risen from 1 billion to 8 billion in just 220 years. 

Earth's story is a saga spanning 4.5 billion years, but it's only in the last 11,000 years - with the rise of farming - that we have started to dramatically impact the planet and its ecosystems. The human chapter of Earth's story could end in disaster, but Chris Packham, the presenter, is keen to argue for a different ending. He says all of humanity's achievements to date have just been a dress rehearsal, because in the very near future our species will need to reach the very zenith of its achievements and all humanity will have to learn to put our beautiful Earth first. 

The programme is extremely thought provoking, but it also makes unsettling viewing. However, it is a subject that can't be shunned, it is something that affects us all - we are all in this together. 

The programme ends with Chris Packham looking out across Mexico City, one of the 30 such Mega cities built by humans across our exquisite globe.

I do not know if the programme is currently available worldwide, but watch it if you can.