Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Welsh Way

Having just had the honour of Fairford's Sub-Postmaster bestowed upon me I find myself travelling from Bibury to the beautiful town of Fairford on a daily basis.  For part of the journey I go along part of the Welsh Way, which was the route taken by Welsh cattle drovers to London.  The demand for beef in the capital was particularly high during the late eighteenth century and Wales was a valuable source of cattle. 

The 'Welsh Way' is a lane which leaves the Gloucester-Cirencester road before Duntisbourne and passes through Barnsley and Ready Token to Fairford and Lechlade, eventually joining the Ridgeway near Wantage.  It is still suitable for cattle droving [though I'm not sure anyone does], as it has very wide and verdant verges.  I often imagine a herd of shiny Welsh Blacks meandering down the lanes with Corgis snapping at their heels and the melodic cursing of the Welsh drovers.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Morris Minor

One morning several months ago I had a very good idea.  It doesn't happen often so when it does I know that I really should act quickly before I forget it.  As I am due to take over Fairford Post Office soon I thought it would be marvellous to have  a 'marketing vehicle'.  And what better vehicle to choose than a Morris Minor?  People have huge fondness for the old Moggie, as they do for the Post Office.  Combine the two and you have the perfect marketing ploy.  That's the theory anyway, and I need it to justify my recent acquisition of a 1960 Morris Minor.  It has been in a garage in Quenington for the last 20 years and needs complete restoration.  I'm not doing it myself due to my stunning ineptitude with such things, but my friend [and builder] Spike has agreed to undertake the project.  I can't wait to get the little beauty popping down the country lanes with that distinctive throaty warble.  I'm going to keep it black, but have 'Bibury & Fairford Post Offices' [or some such form of words] emblazoned down the side.

The Morris, with Spike in the background, relishing the project already.

Brancher Day

May 10th is traditionally known as 'Brancher Day'.  All the local farm workers would congregate with shot guns at a rookery and blast all the young rooks as they tentatively walked along the tree branches [hence the term 'brancher'].  Back then rooks were seen as a pest, but now they don't really make significant inroads into crops.  If anything they may even help the arable farmer by keeping slugs and other pests down.  Rook pie was also a popular dish, whereas now it is rarely eaten.  They appear to be amazing social and gregarious birds who keep an intelligent eye on everything that occurs on their 'patch'. 

If you look very carefully you might be able to see two rooks seeing off a very large buzzard in dramatic fashion.

Dawn Chorus

I was up with the lark this morning to enjoy a 'dawn chorus walk' at Chedworth Roman villa.  The walk commenced at 5.30am and was hosted by a National Trust ecologist, who was extremely knowledgeable on all things natural.  The villa site is spectacular, especially so at that time of the morning, when everything is so fresh and sparkling.

Around ten of us met and walked around the woods for about an hour with the ecologist highlighting and explaining different bird songs and calls.   We heard black birds, song thrushes, mistle thrushes, chiff chaffs, various types of warblers, black caps, and robins to name but a few, and saw a cuckoo travelling across the sky with its slow, deliberate flight.  We then had bacon rolls and coffee back at the villa. What a cracking start to the day, and it was completely free of charge as well, so thanks very much to the National Trust.

No birds, but a beautiful tree.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Midsomer Murders

John Nettles, sometimes described as the best James Bond we never had [by me].
 The shop has just been inundated by a coach load of Danish people who are on a week long Midsomer Murders tour of Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds.  Lovely people and obviously very much into their Midsomer Murders.  I'm more of a Bergerac man myself and several of the Danish visitors agreed that Bergerac may have the edge over MM.  I was at pains to explain that Midsomer Murders, although entertaining, is not true to life as we don't have that many murders around here.  Famous last words.

Did you know that the hardest phrase to say in Danish is 'strawberry porridge with cream'?  Next time you speak to a Dane ask them to say it.  Damn near impossible.

Midsomer County aka somewhere around here - would make a good teatowel, mmm...

Thursday, 5 May 2011


The cowslips are just on the way out in early May and it is a shame to see them go.  This small and delicate yellow flower is a joy and [for me] has become what spring is all about.  You can make wine from them, but I would never have the heart to pick them.  The road from Cirencester to Gloucester [A417] was constructed around 15-20 years ago and the verges were built using top soil from a housing development near Stroud.  The dormant cowslip seeds sprouted in the first couple of years of the new road's existence and now the large verges are absolutely covered in them.  It's a wonderful sight in April, but hard to take a photo of due to the fast moving traffic!

Royal Wedding

I really enjoyed the Royal Wedding.  I don't normally enjoy wearing my full dress uniform.  The epaulets make me perspire, the medals chafe my left nipple and I tend to trip over the sword.  But for this occasion it was worth it; the whole village came together to celebrate and marvelous fun was had by all.  The Wedding was also a prime commercial opportunity for the shop with commemorative tea towels and mugs selling very well and many souvenirs of the big day going as far afield as Japan and Thailand.  I also noticed an insatiable appetite for Royal Wedding comemorative stamps, with the mini-sheet of four stamps of various values selling out in one day.

The table set for the children's tea party.

The V.I.P

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Lyne Down Cider

As I was in Gloucester I had a wander through the excellent Farmers' Market, that is held every Friday in the city centre.  After a good browse I bought some cider from Lyne Down cider, who are based near Ledbury, Herefordshire;  two bottles of single variety cider [a dry and a medium sweet] and a bottle of perry.  I tried some of the cider last night and it is very good. 

One day I am going to apply for a liquor licence so I can sell locally produced cider and beer in the shop.  How it will be received I wonder?  I'm trying a glass of my own scrumpy at the moment and I don't think it's very commercial!

The Judge's House

Yesterday I had a trip to the cash and carry in Gloucester and had a couple of hours to spare so I nipped into the city centre for a mooch.  Most of my favourite buildings in Gloucester are pubs [the New Inn, the Fountain, Cafe Rene etc. etc.] but there is one none pub building, known as the Judge's House, which I find enthralling. 

It is reputed to be the biggest and most authentic sixteenth century timber framed town house in the country.  The catch is that you can't really see it.  Another building was subsequently built in front of the facade of the Judge's House, so that there is now a small narrow lane between the two buildings.  It is down Westgate Street, just passed McDonald's and next door to the Santander Bank.  Until recently the Judge's House was an independent book shop, but is now empty and on the market.  I am told that the upper internal floors of the building have not been touched in 400 years.

If you sidle down the alley, known as Maverdine Lane, strain your neck and look upwards then you can see the tremendous façade.  It is covered in anti-pigeon spikes and it is rather gloomy, but marvellous none the less.  I wonder how the sixteenth century merchant who built it would feel if he knew that his splendid house was now next door to a Spanish bank, and especially one that had consumed several long standing British banks?

Proceed through the goes no where.

Look up.....difficult to get a good photo....

I hope these photos do it justice.  I would have thought that in this digital age the façade could be 'scanned' and then reproduced somehow.  I hope a new use is found soon for the building and that it is a sympathetic one.  It would make a good pub.........

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hedgerow Blossom

The hedgerows appear to be heavily laden with blossom this year which bodes well for a bumper crop of hedgerow fruit this autumn.  Hopefully the frost will not be too severe over the next month or so and the blossoms will be allowed to mature.

GWR Manure

Roy Nash is a gentleman who supplies me with a few greetings cards.  Roy is in his mid 80s and is a very talented photographer.  He lives in Swindon and has day trips to the Cotswolds when he will take lots of photographs.  Roy has accepted the digital age and manufactures all his cards from home; they come with an envelope and are individually wrapped in cellophane.  They're great sellers and are especially popular amongst the Japanese visitors. 

I very much enjoy chatting with Roy as he spent his entire working life with Great Western Railway [GWR] over in Swindon.  Apparently all employees of GWR were provided with subsidised coal which was delivered to their homes by horse and cart.  The horses were stabled underneath the railway arches and their manure was collected on a daily basis.  The manure was then mixed with sand and used in the casting process of the iron locomotive cylinders. 

The massive GWR works at Swindon is now a retail outlet centre and there is an excellent museum there called Steam, which is dedicated to the history of the GWR  For some smashing old photos of the works go to

A chap came in yesterday whose ambition it was to travel on all the remaining steam and narrow gauge railways in the UK.  He said there are approximately 130 in total and so far he had ticked off 58.  I'm going to have a crack at it on my retirement.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Nettle Beer

The hop was introduced to this country in around the 1520s and before then many other things were used to flavour beer.  Nettles were one of them.  Have a go at making your own nettle beer and you may be surprised at how refreshing its earthy citrus flavour is.  I should think it must be good for you too.  This recipe is taken from Roger Phillips's 'Wild Foods', which I think is a lovely book.  If I were you I would half the quantities as two and a half gallons is a lot to drink if you don't like it.  Also, pick your nettles at this time of year when they are young as older nettles are full of an acid that irritates the kidneys. 

100 nettle stalks [with leaves]
2 1/2 gallons water
3lb sugar
2oz cream of tartar
1/2 oz yeast

Boil nettles with the water for 15 minutes.  Strain, and add the sugar and the cream of tartar.  Heat and stir until dissolved.  Wait until tepid, then add the yeast and stir well.  Cover with muslin and leave for 24 hours.  Remove the scum and decant without disturbing the sediment.  Bottle, cork and tie down.

I [Richard not Roger] would use champagne yeast, or the very least a good wine yeast, but please don't use bread yeast or the beer will be yuk!  I also use old plastic lemonade bottles which are far more convenient than glass, cork and string.

A little nettle - don't use big ones.

Roger Phillips mentions several hedgerow plants that were brought over by the Romans, who grew them as vegetables.  Over the years we have forgotten about them and now see them as weeds.  Alexanders is the most notable of these plants.  It was grown extensively in medieval monastery gardens and was very popular in the vegetable garden up until the 17th-century.  It's a Mediterranean plant and is very good to eat and Roger describes it as a 'most exciting vegetable'.  Quite peculiar how we have been obsessed with all food and drink from the Med' for the last forty years and have almost forgotten about a delicious Med' veg' that has grown here in abundance for the last 2,000 years.

Last year's cider is a resounding success.  It appears to have gained a soft, rounded quality that the previous year's batch certainly did not have.  This is apparently due to a second fermentation called the malo-lactic fermentation.  The sour lactic acid turns into softer malic acid and makes the drink far more palatable.  Thank goodness.

The buds are coming out in the hedgerows and soon we won't be able to see the lichen.  It will be great to see the hedgerows in all their splendour again, but the lichen has provided some enthralling bits of colour over the winter months. 

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Spring Snap

After a long, bleak winter it is fantastic to see some bright spring colours out and about.

Daffodils on Rack Isle

Rack Isle is the area of boggy ground which lies in the middle of the village, immediately in front of Arlington Row.  In the Middle Ages as part of the fulling process they hung the wool on racks on the isle, hence the name 'Rack Isle'.  It is actually an isle too as it is completely surrounded by water. 

The racks have long since gone and the isle is now owned and managed by the National Trust, who endeavour to maintain it as a protected wildlife area.  Looking at old photos of the isle it appears to have been treated like any other field and stocked quite heavily as the grass is grazed into well trimmed neatness.  And I'm told that there used to a fun fair held there as recently as the 1960s. 

I had a chat with the NT warden the other day who said that he disapproved of the daffodils that have sprung up on the edge of the isle.  They have no doubt been planted over the years by people living in Arlington Row.  The warden viewed them as a suburban intrusion into a wild landscape.  I thought this a little excessive as we are after all in the middle of a village and not an uninhabited wilderness.  Each to his own, but I think the daffs look rather jolly.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sumer is icumen in

Life may well have been short, nasty and brutish in the thirteenth century, but they appreciated spring as much as we do.  I love this thirteenth century poem and [perhaps rather sadly] can't stop reciting it in my head at this time of year:

Sing! cuccu, nu.  Sing! cuccu.
Sing! cuccu. Sing! cuccu, nu.

Sumer is icumen in -
Lhude sing! cuccu.
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu -
Sing! cuccu.

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu,
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Murie sing! cuccu.
Cuccu, cuccu,
Well singes thu, cuccu -
Ne swik thu naver nu!

[Sing! now, cuckoo. Spring has come in - sing loud! cuckoo.  The seed grows and the meadow flowers, and now the wood is in leaf.  Sing!  Cuckoo.  The ewe bleats for her lamb, the cow lows for her calf, the bullock leaps and the buck farts.  Sing, tunefully! Cuckoo, cuckoo, you sing well - now don't ever stop!]

The only problem is I've yet to hear a cuckoo this year, nor for that matter a deer break wind.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

More About Voles..........

A water vole expert came into the shop this week and shared some fascinating facts about them......

1.  Males have a territory of around 100m up the river bank, and females of around 60m.
2.  They have a gestation period of two weeks and breed up to five times a year.
3.  From a litter of eight babies only one is expected to reach maturity.
4.  They love apples.

Water vole spotters continue to visit the village in surprisingly large numbers.  Thankfully the mink population has now been all but eradicated on the Coln and the water voles are making a comeback.  One problem now is that the swans are killing them.  Feeding the ducks and swans makes them very aggressive apparently and so they attack the voles as they see them as competition.

I've had an absence of a couple of months from this lark, mainly because I've been distracted by expansionist plans.  Hopefully, they will come to fruition next week and I will be able to focus on the blog once more [if anyone is interested that is].

Thursday, 6 January 2011


During the Christmas holidays, when the snow was still on the ground, I heard the the deep, resonant call of a raven overhead.  Two of these massive birds were flying high over the snow covered valley.  I don't know what it is about the raven, but they do send a shiver of excitement down my spine. 

They really are a huge bird having a wingspan of around 4 to 5 foot and standing around 2 foot tall.  The pair I saw are said to be nesting in woods near Quenington and the Cotswolds must be on the western extremes of the raven's coverage as they are apparently not to be found in the east of England.  The call is unmistakable and always reminds me of Lady Macbeth:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry "Hold, hold!"

Cripes!  She really wasn't WI material, was she?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Village Hall

The village hall is one of those vital buildings that make a village a community rather than just a collection of houses.  Our village hall is very well run and hosts a wide range of events from rug sales to birthday parties.  One week in December it hosted the 100th birthday party of a local gentlemen on the Tuesday and the 5th birthday party of a local boy on the Saturday, so it really is used across the community.

The hall was originally built as a reading room with a cottage either side in 1878 and was funded by Earl Sherborne.  Apparently reading rooms were funded by philanthropists at that time to encourage agricultural labourers to stay out of the pub.  I suspect the sensible labourer would have gone to both the pub and the reading room, especially as the latter has very big, stone fireplaces and must have been warm and well lit.  It was probably a welcome refuge from home which was probably a one up, one down smokey cottage with several noisy children within.  Maybe they went to the pub first and then for a good read in the reading room; I could think of worse ways to spend a few hours on a winter's evening even today.