Ten Days in Gloucestershire – August 2020

Since I got back from my Spanish winter trip in March, I have been wishing and waiting to spend some time in Gloucestershire. Once the Clubs announced a limited re-opening of their sites, lots of caravanners must have had the same desire to get away, for it was quite difficult to find a pitch for a continuous period of more than a few days. Finally I got a booking at the Caravan Club site at Bourton on the Water.

Living close to the London/Surrey border, a journey from home always begins with travel either north or south on the M25, so travelling north from Junction 11, I had a choice between the M4 or the M40. I chose the M40 – then later, the A40.

IMG20200728 153650My 100 mile journey took just over two hours, reaching the site thirty minutes after mid-day. A motor van had arrived just before me, so with the new rule of only one person in reception at a time, I had to wait in the car. In the office, a wall of perspex divided the warden from the visitor. I was able to chose my pitch from seven or eight empty ones – although by evening, they were all occupied.

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With the necessary jobs done, I had a late lunch followed by a short snooze, As it was still only mid-afternoon, I took advantage of the sunshine and unloaded my bike from the car. The site is situated on a disused railway station quite close to the road. Although the road is not a busy one, traffic along it is quite fast. So as soon as possible I turned off onto the byways. One road bore the sign “Ford”, so I took it. Down and down the hill it went into a valley bottom. There I found a stream with a raised footbridge whilst vehicular traffic needed to splash through the water.

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Around the stream was a cluster of cottages and a farm. In an adjacent paddock were ten or so Cotswold sheep. I stood for a while on the bridge taking in the tranquil scenery and listening to the bleating of the sheep but soon it was time for the climb back to the main road. I got back to the site having done five miles.

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I made an early start and with some lunch and a beer packed into the coolbox, I set off for Gloucester. From my previous planning, I had noted down the coordinates of the nearest car park to the Cathedral and Tomtom took me directly to it. The Cathedral was about 200 yards away, and it was to there that I headed first.

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The Cathedral was built as an abbey church in the Norman style but down the years has been altered using later styles. The central tower was built in the 15th Century. From a side door, I took a walk along the cloisters which have some of the oldest fan vaulting in the country, having been built from 1350 onwards.

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Back inside, I came to the magnificent choir stalls with the organ pipes towering overhead.

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The organ was originally constructed in 1666 by Thomas Harris, although since then, it has been rebuilt several times. In the 1800s, Father Willis and later his son worked on it. In the early 1970’s it was extended, modified and rebuilt under the supervision of world-famous organist Ralph Downes. The case, however, and many of the pipes are those which were installed on the original organ.

The choirs of the Cathedral would normally be taking part in the Three Choirs Festival at this stage of the Summer. The choirs being those of the Cathedrals of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester… Last year it was held at Gloucester Cathedral. This year, it would have been at Worcester, however, the pandemic has postponed the event till next year.

The Festival dates from the early 1700s when two friends, the organists at Worcester and Gloucester collaborated in the composition of some items of church music. The Festival has been held every year, except for some of the war years and has become a leading prestigious event in the musical calendar. Even by the late 1800’s, several famous composers were conducting their compositions at the Festival. Dvorak conducted a performance of his Stabat Mater. Sullivan and Parry also conducted the orchestra and choirs. In 1899 Sir Edward Elgar conducted at the Festival a performance of his Enigma Variations. In 1910 Vaughan Williams composed his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and in the same year premiered it at the Festival in Gloucester Cathedral.

Wandering around the cathedral – just to the side of the chancel, I came to the tomb of King Edward II.

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Edward was on the throne for around 20 years. A marriage was arranged to a French Princess in the belief that it would help to bring about an end to the friction and wars that were constant between the two countries. But it wasn’t a happy marriage. Edward showed far more interest in his ‘friend’, Piers Gaveston. Consequently, there was friction between the King and the ruling Barons. Because of his unpopularity, Edward was arrested and imprisoned in Berkeley Castle. Eventually, his death was announced but it was strongly believed that he had been murdered. According to some historians, because of his homosexuality, he was killed by having a red-hot poker thrust into his backside. His son, Edward III was proclaimed King in his place, and it was Edward III that had the tomb built and installed.

Now here’s a thought…………… When Henry VIII, some 200 years later, decided to embark on the Dissolution of the Religious Houses, the Priory of St. Peter’s was certainly closed and then destroyed. Henry was a distant relative of Edward and so because Edward was buried here, did it save the Cathedral from becoming just another ruined abbey church?

From the Cathedral it wasn’t far to the remains of St. Oswald’s Priory. Around the year 900, the Priory was founded by Lady Aethelflaed, a daughter of Alfred the Great. The Priory Church, initially dedicated to St. Peter, was constructed from recycled Roman stones from the town. Ten years later the remains of Saint Oswald were taken there and the building rededicated to the saint. In the centuries that followed St Oswald’s grew rich as a place of pilgrimage. But after the Norman Conquest the new Abbey of Saint Peter was built close by and as the new Abbey became more successful, St. Oswald’s fell into ruin. Saint Peter’s Abbey continued to flourish right up to the dissolution when only the church was left, which is now the Cathedral.

The picture shows the Cathedral tower framed by a remaining archway of St Oswald’s Priory.

In a street close by the Cathedral is a fine old Tudor house referred to as Robert Raikes’ House.

It was originally built in 1560 as a merchant’s house. Perhaps a wool merchant where his wool and business would be transacted on the ground floor, with family and servants living on the upper floors. The house is primarily built with a timber-frame and wattle and daub panels. Not until the 1700s did Robert Raikes become the owner when he started publishing the Gloucester Journal from the premises.

In another street are another two timber-framed houses.   The one on the left has a plaque bearing the information “Bishops Lodgings”.

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Later in the day, I moved to another car park, this time to one closer to the Docks. Like many places which once had a busy thriving docks, today Gloucester Docks has some very nicely converted warehouses and stretches of water given over to leisure craft.

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Today’s plan was to do a circular drive. I left the site and headed for the village of Bibury. It was at this village where I had wanted to stay on a Caravan Club CL but the owner of the site emailed to say he was fully booked except for a few odd days. I arrived in Bibury quite early in the day so I parked without too much difficulty. The star attraction of the village is a terrace of cottages known as Arlington Row.

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IMG_20200730_100204 It was originally built as a sheep-house in the 14th century but was converted in the 1600s to provide cottages for weavers who supplied cloth to the nearby Arlington Mill. Although the mill was later converted into a corn mill, it started its life as a fulling mill. Before mechanical fulling was invented, fulling was done by hand – or rather by feet. The fullers pounded the cloth by walking about on it. Not a pleasant job because the vats where it took place also contained a depth of urine, The process cleaned the wool of its oils and thickened it into a felt-like material.

From Bibury, it was back into the car for a fifteen-mile drive to Bampton. I parked just across from the church. This is it —

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Maybe the church looks familiar?

Next door to the church is this fine house.

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Maybe this too you’ve seen before?

But only if you were a follower of the television series, Downton Abbey, for this village in Oxfordshire doubled as the Village of Downton in Yorkshire. Just along the road is the entrance to the Cottage Hospital – in fact, it’s the entrance to the village library.

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For a number of years, the cast of the series were familiar figures in the village.

Back in the car and my next stop was to be just outside the town of Witney, a town once famous for its blanket production. I was headed to Cogges Manor Farm. The manor house is mentioned in Doomsday Book when Cogges was identified as a separate village.

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The farm also featured in several episodes of Downton as the “home farm”, where Lady Edith often visited to see her illegitimate daughter. Unfortunately, the interior of the house was closed because of the virus, but it was interesting to see the various periods of the buildings, the earliest part having been built in the 13th Century. The lovely barns were built in the 17th Century.

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But then it was time to start heading for home with one more stop just three miles away. I parked outside the church of Minster Lovell. Unfortunately, because of the virus the church was locked. A walk through the churchyard brought me to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall.

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IMG_20200730_124621There has been a manor house here since the 12th century, but what we see now are the ruins of a wonderful building erected on the proceeds from the wars with France. William, Baron of Lovell was one of the richest men in England and he built this house as a demonstration of his wealth. His grandson, Francis was a supporter of Richard III and was created Viscount Lovell. Unfortunately in 1485, Richard III lost at the Battle of Bosworth and although Viscount Lovell survived, his house, lands and titles were taken from him.

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Today required another early start. I had a booking for Blenheim Palace. In normal times one could just turn up, buy a ticket and enter – after having chosen a nice day. However, in these abnormal time, to restrict the numbers entering, all bookings need to be done online, on a specific day and at an appointed time. Consequently, having made my booking a week or so ago, I was here on Friday at 10.00am. And on what turned out to be the hottest day of the week.

The Palace has been the principal home of all the Dukes of Marlborough since John Churchill, the first Duke returned triumphant from the wars in the early 1700s. He had the Palace built and named after he fought and won in the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria. It’s more modern claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. The Palace and grounds stand on an estate of around 2000 acres, most of which are available for the visitor to explore.   Since there was a long queue for the yet to open interior, I set about exploring the extensive grounds and gardens. This is some of what I saw.

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You arrive at this imposing front entrance after travelling up the drive for nearly two miles from the front gate.

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The view from the side/rear

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The rear of the Palace from across the lawns

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A bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the newly created memorial garden

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The red room

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The dining room

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The long gallery

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The Cascade in the grounds.

From the Palace, I drove a few miles to the village of Bladon. It was to this small village churchyard where Sir Winston Churchill expressed his wish that after his death, he should be laid to rest. His wife lays alongside him.

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The tomb of Winston Churchill

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The Churchill Family plot

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After two busy and strenuous days, I felt like having an easy day. I drove the 4 miles to the village of Bourton on the Water. A lovely spot to take a walk and then a sit on a bench alongside the river which runs through this lovely Cotswold village.

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It was time to ride the bike again today. I decided to take a look at the village of Notsgrove. The Caravan Club site where I’m staying is built on the site of the long-closed train station of Notsgrove. As so often in times past, the station was built around a mile away from the village. A little bit of Google research reveals that it was once a line which ran to Tewkesbury but closed in the 1960s. Maybe another decision of the infamous, Dr. Beeching?. And as always, I headed for the village church. Fortunately, this one was open. And immediately seeing those sturdy pillars with their round arches dated it as a very old building. For a small village church, there was an abundance of interesting wood-carving. Over near to the entrance was a lovely original Norman font.

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With lunch packed, today, I was heading to Batsford Arboretum at Moreton-in-Marsh, another lovely Cotswold Village. They required that booking be done online however, armed with your booking reference, you could visit any day. Online information told me that the least busy times were shortly after opening. I was there in time for the opening, so wearing my mask, I was issued with a ticket. Once away from reception, masks can be removed. The gardens were first begun by the Mitford family when Algernon inherited it in the 1860s. His work had taken him to China and India and it was from there that a lot of his trees and plants came. The estate is laid out with roads and paths, some of which were far too steep for me to attempt. But it was pleasant to travel the lower paths and sit on the benches set up on the lawns.

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Just outside the town, at a crossroads is a monument marking the meeting place of four counties. Because of boundary changes which took place twenty or so years ago, the pillar now only marks three counties.

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Another Cotswold village today. This time Burford. All these villages have wide main streets and date from medieval times. The wealth and income came from the breeding of sheep for their wool. Consequently, in every town or village, the market place needed to have lots of space for the sale of sheep and the buying and selling of wool. English wool was so much sort-after that dealers came from the continent to purchase it.

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Today I want to visit Northleach, yet another Cotswold village dating from medieval times. I found a parking spot in the market square, and by walking through a narrow lane, I came to the church. It was open. A parishioner asked me to write my name and telephone number on a pad.

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She explained– it was in case a future infection arose in the village. Hand sanitizer followed and then I discovered the church was only open for one hour per week. This morning happened to be the time – lucky me.

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The village is mentioned in Doomsday and at that time the entire area was owned by the Abbey of St Peter in Gloucester. Parts of the church tower date from those times, but the nave dates from the mid-15th Century when one of the rich wool merchants bequeathed the sum of £300 to do rebuilding work. That’s today’s equivalent of around £200K. His body lies in one of the aisles under a memorial brass plaque.

The tower has an automatic peal of eight bells. Every three hours they ring out verses of the hymn tune ‘Hanover’ written to go with the psalm, “O worship the King”. Unfortunately, it is a twelve-hour clock, so the bells ring out at three hourly intervals throughout the night. Anyone for ear-plugs!!

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The market square is triangular in shape mostly surrounded by medieval buildings. As with many other villages appreciation of the buildings is marred by so many parked cars. Facing out onto a tiny triangular green was the delightful Sycamore Cottage.

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Today I decided to do another trip to Gloucester. I programmed Tomtom for my first stop – the Llanthony Secunda Priory. The satnav brought me to the gates – but it was closed and locked. According to the website, the grounds would be open, I drove around the area trying to find another entrance but with no parking available, I had to give up. Instead, I went to have another look at the Cathedral.

My next stop was to see the Great Whitworth Roman Villa. I headed along a farm road a few miles away from the City. I arrived at a small English Heritage plot where I was able to Park. The road continued on up the hill and around the corner. A notice forbade cars to proceed any further. I decided to have some lunch and then look at my options.

Eventually, a couple came down the road returning to their car. I jumped out and had a word with them. Apparently, the villa was 1/3rd of a mile along the road, but it was uphill. I was still considering when the first few drops of rain began to fall. I decided to give up and return to the main road, where I was sure I would have more success with my third planned visit – Tesco’s – to do some shopping ready for my return home tomorrow.

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And that was yesterday. An appalling journey. In spite of being able to achieve 60mph on the M40, on arrival home my average speed on the dashboard was a dismal 34mph. Thanks mainly to congestion on the M25.

Although this account was written up most evenings, it is only now that I’m able to upload it. Bourton-on-the-Water is a lovely site, but with terrible mobile reception. In spite of my Huawei mifi’s aerial being outside on the roof of the van, the connection was very poor. It was commonplace to have to stand outside and have three tries to send a text message.

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