Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cotswold Country

After cricket in Nottingham, I'd arranged to stay with one of my tennis playing friends at his home in Cheltenham.  It was a short couple of hours journey away and I was amazed that so many of the big towns in the Midlands were so close to one another.  Having not been around England that much, I thought they were all miles apart but it turns out that some of the big towns were less than 20 miles away... and I drove through some of them: Leicester, Derby, Birmingham (my GPS failed miserably at avoiding it) before hitting the open country and the Cotswolds.

I'd never been this way before despite the fact that lots of people say that the Cotswolds is really what the shires of England are all about.  I don't agree.  I think a lot of bits of England look like the countryside that is the Cotswolds.  It's the towns and villages that set this part of the country apart.

My best man, Chris, years ago had a thing about Cheltenham.  He hated the notion of it and when we were thinking about and trying to raise a punk band in the 1970's, he wanted to write a song about Cheltenham that included the line: "I went to Cheltenham on Thursday.  It was closed." Sadly incompetence and lack of musical ability prevented this gem reaching the pop charts.  But I've remembered it ever since!

Cheltenham was really nice actually.  A very stylish and smart town.  I liked it a lot.  It's the stone that makes it.  4,000 years ago the Belas Knap, a stone barrow, was created but the Romans used it a lot for their roads and other building projects so the region was much populated.  Cirencester was a major Roman market town.

Later, the Cotswolds became a major wool producing area before the time of enclosures when all the fields were divided up amongst the gentry.  This resulted strangely in a mass of new building using local stone as more expensive materials could not be afforded.  The lovely towns and villages of today bear testament to this.

Kay, Wilf and I went out to a lovely art deco restaurant for dinner the first night after an amazing tennis game at Wilf's local club -- I got to play on some really nice grass courts too.  After all these years, I was utterly hopeless on them.  And to think I grew up playing almost exclusively on grass courts too!  Anyway we did win, although wasn't really the point (yes it was) but the night was glorious.

Excuse the hair, it was breezy!

The following day as Kay and Wilf were doing house stuff (they were opening the place up after 10 years so had loads to do) so I headed off in the car on a long bimble around the Cotswolds' small villages starting at Bourton on the Water (really beautiful even with 20+ coaches and hundreds of tourist cars).  The guide book equates it to Venice because of the small stream that flows through it.  Very picturesque though.

Next was Stow on the Wold -- I just loved the name!  This is another old market town with lots of lovely old homes, pubs and curious stores.  Lots of craft type stuff. Industry these days seems all tourist related to me.

Next up was Moreton-in-Marsh, yet another beautiful little town with stone houses, pubs and craft stores.  Just lovely again.

Finally was the Broadway Tower, a folly built just outside Broadway which either was just in Worcestershire or just in Gloucestershire, not sure.  This tower was built in the 1600's and was a favourite hang out of pre-Raphaelite artists but more recently was a watch tower during the Battle of Britain and something secret during the Cold War.  Wonderful views over supposedly 9 different counties.

Two days wasn't enough to get to grips with this little piece of heaven.

The village of Broadway is much used in TV shows these days.  You can see why.

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