Saturday, 28 May 2011

We get to know The Cotswolds

Neither Chris or myself knew the Cotswolds other than superficially, though we have visited on a couple of occasions, including attending a Gliding course at Nympsfield back in the glorious summer of 1976. I've driven through the area many times on the major roads, flown over it (including a couple of visits to Kemble Airfield), and I once stayed a week in Cirencester but that was for a work-related course so I saw little of the surrounding area. We had a notion of quaint villages built of honey-coloured stone, winding lanes, and rolling hills.

We now know it better, and it is even lovelier than we thought. Today we returned from five days based in Broadway visiting Claire, our elder daughter, who is now working there as a veterinary surgeon. Trip Advisor web site recommended The Windrush B&B in Broadway, and it couldn't have come up with a better choice. It was delightful - Darren and Anthony welcomed us as valued house guests, the room was comfortable, clean, and tastefully appointed (as was the rest of the house) and the B&B in general and Anthony's breakfasts in particular have rightfully won tourism awards. Very highly recommended; here is their website:

Chris enjoys tea and home-made cakes in the Garden of The Windrush on arrival
on Tuesday 24th May

Darren welcomed us with tea and home made cakes which we took in the garden in the sunshine. Claire arrived shortly afterwards to show us some of the stunning scenery and villages in the area. We set off up Snowshill out of Broadway, routed along the edge of the high ground, to a structure we had spied from afar as we had approached Broadway; Broadway Tower.

Broadway Tower, high on the Cotswold ridge above Broadway
and the Vale of Evesham

Looking out over the Vale of Evesham from Broadway Tower. Broadway village is at the base of the ridge behind the trees in the foreground. The hills in the far background are the Malverns, on the far side of the Severn. As ever, click twice on the picture for a full size image to see the detail.

The Broadway Hotel, by the village green

Broadway during the day is packed with tourists and coach parties. In the evening, they've all gone and the village is eerily quiet.

We, with Claire, ate at the 'Swan' in Broadway on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, a bright and sunny day, Claire and Chris went shopping in Broadway. I headed for the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway (GWR - not unintentionally the initials of the Great Western Railway) at Toddington, five miles south of Broadway.

Ignore the Scottish destination; this diesel railcar came from that area, but now resides on the GWR and on the day of my visit provided the service on the northern section of this bisected railway.

Last winter the GWR suffered an embankment collapse at Gotheringham. With help from their insurance company but still involving a lot of debt that collapse was repaired. Then, following the winter's appalling weather, a second embankment (Chicken Curve) north of Winchcombe collapsed. This time the damage was worse and there is no help from the insurance company. These collapses, together with the cancellation of all the railway's 'Santa Specials' because of the terrible weather, almost bankrupted the railway. Individuals have donated funds, volunteers provide free labour, and most amazing of all many other heritage railways have run and are running special events to raise funds for the struggling GWR. But as soil experts take core samples at Chicken Curve, the railway is divided into a northern section based on Toddington station, and a southern section from Winchcombe to Cheltenham Racecourse.

A 1950s diesel railcar runs the northern section, leaving Toddington station to travel south as far as Chicken Curve, then reversing back to Toddington before proceding north to Lavenham, which is as far as the northern extension of the line to Broadway and Honeybourne has got. Work on this extension (which might eventually reach the original end of this line at Stratford-on-Avon) has temporarily ceased due to lack of funds caused by the two embankment collapses. The railcar then returns to Toddington station.

I drove the few miles to Winchcombe station to sample the longer, southern section of the railway. This is steam-worked, and when I visited Stanier 8F locomotive 45160 was running services. This locomotive was built in 1940 by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, and shipped to Turkey. The Turks called them 'Churchills' after the British Prime Minister, and in 1989 the 'Churchill 8F Locomotive Company Limited' repatriated 45160 to UK and it was restored at GWR.

8F 45160 at Winchcombe

Detail of 45160's cab side plates

The 8F barks away from Winchcombe towards Greet tunnel

Beyond Greet tunnel the train slows to cross the still settling repaired embankment at Gotheringham. Once past here, the driver 'opened her up' and the pulsing pull of her two powerful cylinders could be felt in the train, in time to the crisp bark from her chimney.

About 20 minutes later we arrived at Cheltenham Racecourse station. Beyond the empty overflow car parks is the grandstand

45160 detaches from the train at Cheltenham Racecourse station to set back for water, before running around to the front of the train to work it back to Winchcombe. In the distance can be seen the disused section of line continuing into a tunnel towards Cheltenham Spa station. A very long term ambition of GWR is to restore the link to the main line at Cheltenham.

I made two return trips between Winchcombe and Cheltenham Racecourse (my ticket allowed unlimited travel all day), and had lunch on the train. A bacon barmcake and a bottle of this rather good beer hit the spot!

I returned to Toddington to have another ride up and down the northern section of the railway. In the car park there is this Science Museum-built replica 'Iron Duke', a 7 foot gauge Great Western locomotive.

That evening Claire drove us to the Beckford Inn south of Evesham where we enjoyed another super meal out.

Next morning (as forecast) dawned wet, and after another of Anthony's top quality breakfasts I called Claire; "is that the old git's taxi service?" I enquired. Shortly afterwards my phone rang; "taxi for the old gits outside now" said Claire. This being a wet day, we needed to do some 'indoor' sightseeing. First stop was Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe, where we met this guy....

Henry VIII at Sudeley

Most of Sudeley was destroyed in the Civil War; only the wing with Henry and some of his compatriots in it survives.

Chris and Claire stroll at Sudeley

The church at Sudeley

Storm cloud over the Sudeley gardens give some attractive light effects here

The Pheasant garden was home to quite a few of these guys and gals. Some of them even found their way up 90 feet or so to the tops of the trees

We headed back to Broadway for a light lunch. The 'high road' we took afforded this view down onto Winchcombe (double clicking on the picture to enlarge it will show it better).

Sudeley was OK, but there wasn't a lot there except mannequins, information boards, and some ruins. After lunch we headed up out of Broadway to Snowshill Manor, a national Trust property and as interesting and quirky as Sudeley had been predictable and bland. But first, on the way up Snowshill, we stopped off at this church for a look around.

St Eadburgha's church in Snowshill just above Broadway. Well worth a visit for its setting and basic but ancient interior.

The church's website puts it well:

St. Eadburgha's church is listed in Simon Jenkins book 'England’s Thousand Best Churches' and is described as a 'well mannered church which has turned its back on the famous village, as if appalled at its capitulation with tourism.'

From its position nestled neatly at the foot of Snowshill it may seem as though time stands still for this ancient church, now marooned from the village.

Chris and Claire in St Eadburgha's churchyard

Not far up the road we came to Snowshill Manor. This National Trust property is not the usual country house and garden NT combination. It was the home of an eccentric 'collector', Charles Wade, and still contains his collection of mostly far eastern exotic furniture, chests, suits of armour etc.

The manor was owned by Winchcombe Abbey from 821 until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. It then passed to the Crown, and was given as a gift to Katherine Parr, wife to King Henry VIII.

Since then, many alterations and additions have been made by the house's many owners and tenants. By 1919, the manor was a semi-derelict farm. It was bought and restored by Charles Paget Wade. Ironically the neglect that the house had suffered from was exactly what attracted Wade. A house with no modern additions or alterations was the ideal place to display his historic and unique collection. He insited on candle light rather than electric light to display his artefacts, and the Trust have continued this with use of low light (electric these days) both to preserve the delicate coulous of the collection and to present it as Wade intended.

Wade and his wife lived modestly in a cottage beside the manor, the Manor itself being reserved for his collections and for entertaining.

Snowshill Manor

Part of the garden at Snowshill

Claire drove us back to The Windrush then returned home to Evesham as Dave, her boyfriend, was driving across to join us. Later they both arrived to taxy the 'old gits' to The Kings Hotel in Chipping Campden. There, the four of us enjoyed the best meal of the holiday - fine dining in fine style.

The following day was the last we'd be together and we decided to spend it at The Cotswold Farm Park, or as BBC 'Countryfile' viewers will know it; 'Adam's farm'.

Claire and Chris at the Cotswold Farm Park admiring some of the many rare breeds of farm animal on display here

Kune Kune sow with piglets

The man himself; Adam Henson, star of 'Adam's Farm' on BBC TV 'Countryfile' and proprietor of the Cotswold Farm Park

Mother duck and family

By mid afternoon we'd explored the Cotswold Farm Park and returned to our favourite tea room in Broadway, Tisanes, for some Ceylon tea (for me - the others had their own pot of choice from the many available). Having had only a sandwich at lunchtime we were a bit naughty and enjoyed something from the Tisanes sweet cabinet (lemon meringue pie for me!).

We were invited to eat at Claire and Dave's house, so they went home to get the meal ready and after some last minute shopping we returned to the Windrush before driving over to the house at Evesham. The meal was delightful, and afterwards Claire produced something called a Wii. Was this some strange Geordie invention (I though it was pronounced 'why-eye')? Apparently not. It goes by the unlikely pronunciation of 'wee' (are they serious? why didn't they go the whole hog and just call it a 'p*ss', which must be what they are taking?). It is a computer game system. I was quite good at 10-pin bowls, rubbish at archery, and didn't bother with golf. It does have a 'flight simulator' but this involves nothing more than pretending the control console is an aeroplane and 'flying' it around. The on-screen aeroplane image just does whatever you do with the console.

The system's complex modelling of the golf game, and ludicrously simple (let's face it, they didn't even bother to be serious) flight sim tells me that a Wee is not for me!

We bade Claire and Dave goodbye, and next morning after the last of the Windrush's excellent breakfasts, we had a look at an arts and crafts show in Broadway Village Hall before hitting the road for home.

The Cotswolds are lovely. Perhaps too lovely? One can have a surfeit of honey-coloured stone and idyllic villages set in a postcard-landscape. But I think I could get used to it!


No comments:

Post a Comment