Monday, March 27, 2006

Winchcombe - 25/26 March 2006

Sudeley CastleWinchcombe was once the capital of Mercia, and remains a very interesting town, full of beautiful buildings. There are many old pubs, cute rows of houses, and a splendid church.

Katherine Parr's TombJust outside the town is Sudeley Castle, which has an interesting history itself. It was once the home of Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII's wives. She lived there after her second marriage to Thomas Seymour, and is buried there following her early death after childbirth.

Wesley House and White Hart InnWe stayed two nights at the White Hart, a quaint old 16th century inn, right next door to the house John Wesley stayed at for two nights in the 1770s. As well as exploring the town and the castle, we did a walk from the town to Hailes Abbey and back through the tiny hamlet of Farmcote and the even smaller Little Farmcote. Farmcote had a small church, complete with what must definitely be the smallest church cross in Christendom. The smallest church cross in Christendom?Despite being so small, the church still had a lovely marble tomb inside.

On the way home on Sunday, we visited two picturesque villages. Cat ignoring church-mouseThe first was Ilmington. On our walk, we visited the local church that has carved, in various places throughout, 11 mice. They are most entertaining, and a neighbourhood cat posed very thoughtfully for us to take a photograph of one, on the door post.

The second village of Warmington was reached just as the rain was starting, so we left a proper exploration to the next time we are in the area.
Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Hampshire - 18/19 March 2006

A coffin restEn route to our Saturday walk we stopped of in the delightful village of Chiddingford. The info said it had a rare high coffin rest in the church lych-gate and that coffin rests were the original reason for the covered lych-gates that are such an attractive feature of English country churches. However, it did not say why. Cowdray ParkFortunately the web tells all and it seems that back in the days when the dead may have had to have been carried a reasonable distance to the church, the pallbearers placed the coffin on the coffin rest and sat on the benches either side of the lych-gate to regain their breath and composure before carrying the departed into the church with due decorum. After all, it would not do for the pallbearers to be huffing and puffing up the aisle. Neither would they want to arrive all wet and bedraggled, hence the roof over the lych-gate.

Having seen our first coffin rest, we went for a walk from Cowdray Park to Lickfold and back again.

Looking down on SelborneSunday’s village of note was Selborne where the attraction was a zig-zag path cut by naturalist Gilbert White up the steep escarpment, Selborne Hanger, behind the village. The 29 switchbacks allowed us to climb quickly for sweeping views over the village and surrounds.

What could be prettier?We then motored a little way north to Oakhanger and walked from there to Wyck and back. As we returned to Oakhanger we passed a couple of cottages that were among the best we have seen in terms of embodying all that is quintessentially olde English cottage architecture.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Wales - 11/12 March 2006

National Botanic Gardens of WalesOur weekend trips away have begun now that winter has been declared ‘officially finished’. So, we set off to visit the National Botanical Gardens of Wales, naturally, this entailed a trip to Wales. The gardens were only opened in 2000 and so still need some time to develop and mature but nevertheless were worth the visit and will merit a return visit in the summer when more plants are at their best. Great glasshouse

Barnadesia caryophyllaThe glasshouse (biggest single span glasshouse in the world) is visually stunning both inside and out.

Paxton's TowerThe gardens are on the site of a ‘great house’ (burnt down in 1931) owned in 1700’s by William Paxton, who also built a tower overlooking the area so it was the tower we visited next. Talley Abbey

After checking in to our accommodation we cast about on the map and saw an Abbey not far away so set out to visit Talley Abbey, passing through an attractive town, Llandeilo.

Church at Caerwent
Roadside vistaThe weather forecast indicated that there would be overnight snow in the area of Wales that we would be journeying through to return to London. As we neared Cardiff it was indeed an attractive vista along the motorway sides. Having visited Castell Coch previously we suspected that is would look good with a dusting of snow so detoured off the motorway to check it out. Castell Coch

The next detour off our homeward route was to Caerwent, an ancient Roman town where the remains of the Roman walls still encircle most of the village, in places up to 5m high. Caerwent wallsWe walked around the walls and then visited the church porch where, in a example of modern ecumenicalism, there is displayed a Roman altar to the god Mars Ocelus originally erected by one Aelius Augustinus who ‘willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.’ Mars Ocelus altar

By the time we reached the Severn River there was no evidence of a snow to be seen. However, the snow we did enjoy was the tail-end of a storm which caused havoc in Scotland and the north of England so perhaps our official declaration of winter’s end was a little premature.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Roydon - 5 March 2006

Proud pikerSunday was another fabulous day so we thought we would return to the Lee River area that we enjoyed last weekend.

We could not find a suitable circular walk so created our own courtesy of the Ordnance Survey website maps. It turned out to be just over 10 miles.

Roydon lock-ups and stocksLeaving Stanstead Abbotts we walked along the Lee Navigation to the point where it joins the Stort Navigation which we followed as far as Roydon.

Leaving the route briefly we detoured to a pub for lunch and to look at the original lock-up and stocks opposite the village green which, until 1840, every parish had to provide to accommodate criminals before they went to court.

Icebreaking narrow-boatThere were three ‘firsts’ on this walk. The first Pike we had seen caught, the first time we had seen a narrow-boat in the role of an icebreaker and the first deer that stood still long enough to be photographed. Wild deer

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Quainton - 4 March 2006

Quainton windmill and preaching crossOur Saturday walk was a little over 10 miles and took in 4 villages in the Vale of Aylesbury starting from Quainton. While Quainton is a quaint to’n that is not the reason for the name: it is, instead, a corruption of old English Cwene-tun or Queen’s Manor. Quainton’s claim to fame is the tallest windmill in the county and the remains of a C15th preaching cross.

Cobweb Cottage complete with spiderThe walk description said “indistinct field paths” and they certainly were. Most paths here, if not very well defined, are at least discernable; but for most of this walk we had no indication that anyone had ever passed that way before.

After a midday snack in a pub in the pretty village of Whitchurch we made our way back to Quainton.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.