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The Spring equinox is upon us. That is to say in "Glawstershire" "the nights is fair drawin in". In other words we are now getting more daylight than darkness and the weather is dry and sunny and Springlike.
Off then for a further exploration of the Cotswold Way. This time up to the car park at Haresfield Camp and a walk along the top through Standish Wood to the end of the hill at Randwick then dropping down to a lower level for the return.
At the far end of the hill you come to Cross Dyke which is pictured above right which is Iron Age about 2000 years old and nobody has the first clue what it was for.
Good Friday was forecast to be the only dry day over Easter so we took ourselves off to Snowshill, one of those insufferably picturesque Cotswold villages about 17 miles from Cheltenham close to the even more picturesque village of Broadway.
Snowshill Manor was our destination which has an interesting history. It was originally owned by Winchcombe Abbey from 821 until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, when it passed to the Crown, and was given to King Henry VIII's wife Katherine Parr, as a gift. It was a typical Cotswold Manor House which eventually became somewhat derelict until in 1919 along came a gentleman called Charles Paget Wade who purchased and restored it and its gardens.
Charles was an architect and illustrator who had inherited his father's Sugar Estate on the Caribbean island of St Kitts. He was also an avid collector of...well you name it and he collected it and he stored everything in the manor house, choosing to live in a little cottage in the grounds called the Priests House. He managed to amass some 22,000 items during his lifetime which he left to the National Trust along with the house and gardens in 1951.
Easter Sunday was forecast to be showery and blow a gale. It was also the first chance we had since coming to Cheltenham of visiting Highnam Church which Thomas Gambier Parry built on his Highnam Court Estate and to see the frescos that he painted as it is only open to the public on certain occasions.
We were in for a pleasant surprise as the weather stayed fine and the estate gardens were delightful.
The previous day Barf Rugby had managed to put three tries past Glawster at Kingsholm so I had to take a bit of stick from the shedheads manning the gate at Highnam but we were amazed at the extent of the gardens and spent a good hour exploring.
The present owner, Roger Head, has restored the gardens to their former glory and has added another dimension by employing a local wood carver to carve sculptures on tree stumps which have died. We learnt that this carver is self taught and has had no formal training which makes what he has achieved even more remarkable.
Thomas Gambier Parry (1816 to 1888) purchased Highnam Court in 1838 with inherited wealth acquired from his father and grandfather who were both directors of the British East India Company. He began laying out the garden in 1840 and completed it in 1874. Thomas was a talented artist and constructed the Church of the Holy Innocents on the estate between 1849 and 1851 in memory of his first wife and those of his children who had died at early ages. He painted the frescos in the church where his son, Hubert Parry (1848 to 1914), learnt to play the organ, was a talented composer and in 1883 became professor of composition and musical history at the Royal College of Music.
Cheltenham composer Gustav Holst studied under Hubert Parry who is principally known for composing the music to Blakes poem "Jerusalem" which seems to have become the unofficial English national anthem.
The Highnam Spring Garden preview is held to help raise funds for the Pied Piper Appeal which is a charity supporting sick and disabled children in Gloucestershire. There was an Easter Egg Hunt for the children in progress and there were hundreds of chocolate eggs scattered around the garden, some in intriguing places like in the jaws of this crocodile on the left!
I enjoyed a huge scrumptious home made slice of Simnel cake with my mug of tea in the Orangery.
The Pied Piper Appeal have an annual event at Highnam, the Gloucester Motor Show, where in addition to the exhibition of classic and vintage cars there is a fashion show, an engineering zone sponsored by Gloucestershire based engineers Renishaw, a food village with local beer and cider makers, craft stalls plus the gardens and church open during the show.
Our next excursion took us to the top of Cleeve Hill where we set off down the Cotswold Way on a circular walk which first took us down into the valley and to the little community of Postlip Hall.
Eight families live in Postlip Hall which is a large medieval manor house with a Jacobean frontage and they all work together to maintain it. In addition they have a 12th century Tithe Barn which they use for theatre and social events which van be hired for private parties and weddings. The largest event takes place in July which is the Cotswold Beer Festival.
They also have a 2 acre organic kitchen garden and keep chickens, sheep, pigs and bees so they obviously eat well!
Should you wish to become part of this community you can purchase an apartment in the hall, if they like you, when one becomes available.
Our route took us over into the next valley and a footbridge over a stream. This was the lowest point and from here it was all uphill through woodland until the Cotswold Way joins the Winchcombe Way on the top. From here we enjoyed extensive views down to Winchcombe.
We trotted off to the matinee at the Everyman to see Alan Bennett's "Single Spies" comedy. It tells the story of the two infamous English spies in two acts which are really two separate plays. The first is called "An Englishman Abroad" and tells of a true meeting in Moscow between the Cambridge spook Guy Burgess played by Nicholas Farrell and the Australian actress Coral Browne played by Belinda Lang.
It was Coral who first told Alan Bennett of her meeting with Burgess and subsequent acquisitions on his behalf from his London suppliers. He was so intrigued that he wrote a play about it.
In the play, Burgess gets Coral to measure him for a new suit "which the comrades are not very good at" and to arrange for it to be made and sent to him by his London tailor. This is followed by further requests for more apparel, all of which were sent with the final exception of a pair of pyjamas where his order was refused as the suppliers were "By Royal Appointment" and after all "Mr Burgess was a traitor"!
The second act entitled "A question of attribution" was set in Buckingham Palace where Sir Anthony Blunt, eventually exposed as the fourth member of the Cambridge spooks club, was played by David Robb and Belinda Lang then plays the Queen. You never really knew if the Queen was talking about the provenance of her pictures or Sir Anthony.
Typically Alan Bennett, the dialogue is very clever with the inevitable punch lines for the laughs.
This was a very enjoyable two hours followed by a pint in our local, sitting outside in the spring sunshine.
We booked for a series of lunchtime recitals at Cheltenham Town Hall.
The first one was a Korean Trio, Mee Hyun Oh (violin), Lydia Kwon (cello) and Soojin Kim (piano).
They played a Mozart Trio Divertimento and a Schubert Trio and it was surprisingly well attended.
The ladies were all TTT and the photo above left is of Lydia and Mee with Soojin above right.
In early April we were honoured with a visit from the Hockeys and drove up to Coventry for the Rugby European Champions Cup quarter final between Wasps and Exeter at the Ricoh Stadium.
This turned out to be one of those few games in your life where you could look back on and say, "that was one of the best games of rugby ever"!
Being from the West Country we were of course supporting Exeter and in the first half they were well on top with a 14-6 lead at half time which included two tries. In the final minutes Exeter had a six point lead when Wasps went over the try line in the corner and were within one point. Jimmy Gopperth had a difficult kick to win the game in injury time and did it to finish 25-24. What a game!
The little guy on the left of the photo above is Christian Wade who scored 6 trys against Worcester the following week!
We hold investment bonds in Wasps Finance who own the Ricoh Stadium so were pleased to see 23,000 people attending this game!
Our second lunchtime recital was by pianist Ashok Gupta, a former Gloucestershire Musician of the Year and an organ scholar at Dean Close School in Cheltenham. He subsequently studied music at Clare College, Cambridge. He has since worked in Opera and for several continental and UK orchestras, several times as an organist at the BBC Proms.
In this recital he began with Beethovens Bagatelles Op.33 and for some unknown reason missed out the third of seven. He then passed some wind with Giles Swaines Bagatelle No 15 Passing Wind, a series of discordant chords for which he waited for no applause and continued straight into a Chopin Etude which seemed to catch him by surprise when we all clapped!
Claude Debussy's Etude Pour les tierces was also enthusiastically received before he launched into the difficult Sonata No 2 by Brahms demonstrating his considerable talent.
We checked out the Beehive pub on the walk back home and enjoyed a nice pint of Timothy Taylors Landlord, walking back past Zizzi's restaurant located in an old church and regency Suffolk Square.
At the start of this page there is reference to the Long Barrow at Standish Wood and later in the year we walked up to Belas Knap Long Barrow situated above Winchcombe which is preserved by English Heritage and is 5,500 years old.
We walked up through the bluebell woods on one bright sunny Sunday morning with spectacular views North over the little town.
The barrow was excavated in 1863 when the remains of about 38 people were discovered. Radiocarbon dating put their deaths between 3,700 and 3,600 BC.
After excavation the barrow was left in ruins until 1928 when further excavations and restoration took place. The bones of adults and children were found, some of which showed evidence of fatal head injuries so they may have been involved in raids and conflict.
Newark Park sits on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment above Wotton-under-Edge. The original building was a Tudor hunting lodge, built by Sir Nicholas Poyntz in 1550.
The local Clutterbuck family owned it for many years and leased it to others. They all extended and improved it into a fine country house over the years but it ended up as a nursing home and by 1949 had fallen into disrepair when it became a National Trust property.
Along came Robert Parsons, a wealthy Texan architect who had settled in Surrey after the war. He had been billeted at Newark during his service with the US military and offered to restore the house and gardens in return for making it his home. A 30 year lease was drawn up for him to live there subject to him spending £10,000/annum on restoration work.
Robert died just before the 30 year lease expired and if you visit today you can wander around his old home. He did save it and furnished it in an eclectic manner you might not expect from someone who was a trained architect. He seems to have had very little idea of interior design.
We subjected ourselves to a tour of the basement which 'elfansafety' had declared must be supervised. We did not complete the tour as it was worse than watching paint dry! The house internally had nothing to commend it but it made an impressive edifice viewed from further down the valley during our walk around the estate. The view from the house South to the Somerset monument and the Mendips on the horizon made the visit worthwhile.
Our last lunchtime recital at Cheltenham Town Hall was by Valentin Schiedermair, a German pianist from Frankfurt now living in London.
It was made more enjoyable by him introducing each piece and telling us something about it.
The first was an early sonata by Schubert in E flat major which he composed when he was 20 and is rarely performed, Valentin only having heard it performed in concert once before.
He then played Prelude and Fugue in A flat major by Bach which he told us Chopin played repeatedly.
The recital finished with Chopin's Etude in the same key, his Nocturne in C sharp minor and finally, saving the masterpiece until last, his Scherzo No 3 in the same key Op.39, calculated to agitate the proverbial hairs especially the chorale in the middle and played with the feeling, verve and pace as on this occasion.
Apparently Chopin was near the end of his life when he composed this and it was too difficult for him to play but he had a pupil who could to whom he dedicated it.
The Knapp & Papermill Nature Reserve is on the Elgar Trail which is a driving route starting at Edward Elgar's birthplace at Broadheath in Worcestershire and takes a circular 35 mile route through Great Malvern, Upton on Severn and back to Worcester, visiting places where Elgar lived and worked. The reserve has nothing to do with Elgar but if you follow the Elgar Route signs from Worcester in an anti clockwise direction you will come to the reserve.
This was originally the location of two water powered papermills and is on Leigh Brook which eventually joins the River Teme which then joins the River Severn just south of Worcester.
The brook drains the western side of the Malvern Hills and is a very beautiful valley but is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the diversity of quality habitats. The Geopark Way Long Distance path runs through the reserve which begins at Bridgnorth, where we used to live, and finishes in Gloucester near where we live now so it is obviously to be explored further.
An ancient orchard is part of the reserve and, being springtime, the meadows and woodlands were full of primroses, cowslips, orchids, comfrey, wild garlic, wood sorrell and of course masses of bluebells, a wildflower scene unique to Britain.
Otters are to be seen in the brook as are kingfishers although we did not see any but Sue spotted an orange-tip butterfly.
The end of April is the Cheltenham Jazz festival which this year featured a Quincy Jones theme concert in the big top with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Madeline Bell. Tickets were completely sold out by the time we applied as was Jamie McCallum's concert, even the £60 tickets!
We did wander down to the Montpellier gardens on a couple of nights as they have plenty of bars and a free stage but £5 for a pint of flat Hobgoblin rather put me off further consumption!
We did encounter one excellent funk band, reminiscent of the 'Chicago' band of the seventies, from London who call themselves Latimo. Keyboard player and founder Nick Pike writes most of their music which is sexily belted out by Katie Birthill. Well worth checking out their gigs from their web site if you are in the London area.
On another occasion we were presented with the usual monotonous and repetitious chord sequence and beat of a black pop band that had little melody or improvisation and had no business being part of a jazz festival but seemed to delight a broad age range! Silver haired rockers making sexy gyrations to the beat I found mildly embarrassing!
Lydney Park is only open to the public in the springtime and then only for two days a week so we made the short journey down the Severn Valley as the warmer weather came to Gloucestershire.
The park first belonged to the Wintour family who were supporters of Charles 1st. In 1719 it was acquired by Benjamin Bathurst, the youngest son of Queen Anne's treasurer and his descendants still own it.
His most famous recent descendant was Charles Bathurst whose grandfather built the present house in 1875. Charles was the local MP from 1910 until 1928 and was raised to the peerage on 1917 as Baron Bledisloe. In 1930 he was appointed the fourth Governor-General of New Zealand, an office he held from 1930 until 1935.
The Australia and New Zealand Rugby Union teams play each other each year for the Bledisloe Cup and it was Lord Bledisloe who donated the trophy in 1931. He was also president of Lydney RFC for 70 years.
Charles's son Ben was responsible for the creation of the lovely woodland garden in the estate deer park from 1954 onwards which, as you can see from the photograph, is a pleasure to visit on a glorious spring day.
There are also the remains of a Roman settlement in the grounds including a temple and a wing of the house contains a museum with relics discovered at the site together with objects presented to Charles from his days as Governor-General of New Zealand.
The following day was even warmer so we set out to further explore the Malvern Hills. We had previously climbed the Herefordshire Beacon at the Southern end of the range and this time we headed North from there, traversing the spine of the hills as far as Perseverance Hill.
We turned back South at Perseverance Hill and climbed to the summit of Pinnacle Hill (345m) which provided extensive views back towards Herefordshire Beacon (338m).
We motored back to a farm shop we had discovered on the A40 near Highnam, just outside Gloucester called Over Farm Market, which had fresh local asparagus and lots more goodies. We might just become regular customers!
Here is a lady to be reckoned with. She lives next door, has recently returned from living in Australia after 30 years and believes passionately that Britain should get back control of its own destiny by leaving the European Union.
We are like minded so she has commandeered us to assist her, the latest has been blowing up balloons with helium that she hands out to children in Cheltenham.
Every day she goes out with her shopping trolly full of Vote Leave and UKIP leaflets plus her little dog in all weathers to try and convince Cheltenham voters to vote leave in the referendum on the 23rd June. If she had been alive before women got the vote she would have been a suffragette.
She tells us she meets many people who are undecided and feels she might have convinced a few of them to vote leave.
She has also been verbally abused by many men who have called her names and ridicule her. This seems to be an unfortunate trait of some on the remain side who seem unable to debate the pros and cons of leaving the EU without resorting to personal insults.
With almost the whole of the Establishment lined up against Brexit (Britains Exit from the EU), it is remarkable that opinion polls are still unable to predict a clear winner in this referendum. Perhaps Brexit will lose in the end because most people dislike change but it looks like being a close run thing.
We are now in the summer.
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