Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lower Slaughter Walk and Summer Fete

When we moved to Oxford 6 years ago, I was so excited that we would be only an hour from London.  I envisioned weekly trips to the city to enjoy all the London has to offer.  Once here, I discovered that Oxford sits on the edge of the Cotswolds, an area of extraordinary natural beauty and stunning villages built from honey-colored stones that look frozen in time - like they have been completely bypassed by the twenty first century. While I love spending time in London and Oxford, it's the Cotswolds and the English countryside that truly entice me and just make my heart sing.

Charming and quaint villages are one of the hallmarks of the Cotswolds. While each village has its own flavor, most of them share a common aesthetic thanks to the gorgeous Cotswold stone they are built from. It is this same stone that makes Oxford so lovely. 

Once voted the "Most Beautiful Village in the Cotswolds” Lower Slaughter is a perfect example of a Cotswold town.  The history of this and most Cotswold villages is evident in striking wool churches and manor houses built by wealthy textile merchants. And the textile wealth was built, in large part, on the slave trade as ships sailed from English ports to Africa, then to the Americas and back to England, filled with cotton to be turned into textiles in the mills throughout England.  

From Wikipedia: "During the Middle Ages, thanks to the breed of sheep known as the Cotswold Lion, the Cotswolds became prosperous from the wool trade with the continent, with much of the money made from wool directed towards the building of churches. The area still preserves numerous large, handsome Cotswold Stone "wool churches".  This is St Mary's Church in Lower Slaughter, a13th century Anglican parish church located on the edge of the village. The present church of St Mary's was rebuilt in 1867 when the earlier church fell into dis-repair. 

The earliest record of the village's Old Mill is found in the Doomsday Book of 1086. In the 14th Century it had begun to be known as Slaughter Mill and by the 18th Century had become independent of the manorial estate. By the way, the name Slaughter has nothing to do with livestock  or butchery - the name stems from the Old English name for a wet land 'slough' or 'slothre', what we would call mud.

We came to Lower Slaughter on the last Bank Holiday (3-day weekend) Monday in August.  The village was all dressed up for it's village fair or fete, as they say here.  I love English village fairs and this one was just perfect.  My favorite part was the local dog show. Each dog was a winner.  While only one dog won a ribbon for "best in show", all of them got a bone.  Lots of happy dogs - that's my kind of dog show.

This was one of the games at the fair.  You pick a boat and let is sail down the little Eye stream that runs through the town.  These are the straggler boats at the end of the competition.  

The starting line for the boat race.

There are countless wonderful hiking trails throughout the Cotswolds and one of my favorites is the gentle, mile-long stroll between the twin villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter.  It's a perfect combination of Cotswold villages, rolling hills, lovely county manor houses and cottages, farms and countryside, and, of course, sheep.

The name Cotswold is popularly attributed the meaning "sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides", incorporating the term wold which means hills. I know it to mean one of my favorite places in England. I'll never grow tired of Cotswold wandering.  I hope to wander back to the Slaughters again soon and I especially hope to come to the Fete again next summer.  While I saw the dog show this year, I missed the first part, the puppy show.  I have to come back for that. 

Let me know if you have a favorite Cotswold village or walk.  I'd love to know about it. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Compton Verney

One of the many things I love about living in Oxford is that there are so many beautiful places to visit within an hour away by car.  Compton Verney is just such a place.  It's a lovely great manor house turned into an art gallery with a Capability Brown designed parkland.  In all ways, it is a feast for the eyes.

There has been a home on this sight for over a thousand years and it is referenced in the Domesday Book of 1086 (a survey and census carried out for the Norman king, William the Conqueror, to record land ownership and values).

As with most grand houses like this, it buildings have evolved over the centuries. The first surviving inventory of the house, which dates from the middle of the Civil War in 1642, describes a "house of thirty rooms including a hall, two parlours, seventeen bedrooms, an armoury and study as well as servants’ quarters and outbuildings". 

The house and landscape that is there today was shaped most notably by John Peyto-Verney who, around 1760, decided to remodel his mansion and garden. He hired Lancelot "Capability" Brown, England's most influential landscape architect to redesign the parkland.

In 1993 it was bought in a run-down state by the Peter Moores Foundation, a charity supporting music and the visual arts established by former Littllwoods chairman Sir Peter Moores. It was his vision to restore the property into a gallery capable of hosting international art exhibitions. Compton Verney Art Gallery is now run by Compton Verney House Trust.

The Park at Compton Verney that you see today is the result of an 11-year restoration project that is still ongoing to restore the landscape to the one that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed in 1768.

Compton Verney has the largest collection of British folk art in the UK.

The British Portrait collection features portraits of royal and noble sitters from the first great era of British painting: the Tudor period (1485-1603) including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Edward VI.

It is estimated that Capability Brown was responsible for over 170 gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain, all designed and developed in the mid to late 1700's.  Click here for a map of the sites where Capability Brown is known or thought to have worked across the UK.  

Happy 301st Birthday today (30 August), Sir Lancelot "Capability" Brown!

I love this willow walk!

I also love this restored Icehouse which dates to around 1771. Ice houses were the forerunners to the refrigerator. They provided temperature regulated spaces, chilled down through the use of ice ‘cropped’ during the winter months. Clean ice would have been collected throughout the winter, and compacted into the insulating brick lined pit.

Across the lake from the house there is a geodesic dome called "The Clearing", a collaborative artwork by Alex Hartley and Tom James.  Here visitors can take workshops on how to live in the world affected by the social and climate change that’s coming our way.


Thank you to our dear friend, Kath and Ian, for introducing us to Compton Verney. All in all, it's a delightful place to visit. Whether you like art, beautiful old manor house, sweeping English landscapes, lunch or tea from locally grown farms, or as in my case, all of the above, there is something here for everyone.  

For more information about the house, click here and/or here.

For information about Capability Brown at Compton Verney click here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

London Docklands

I spent a day last week exploring a part of London I didn't know very well -- the docklands, the river area around east and south east London.  The docks were formerly part of the Port of London, at one time the world's largest port. There is so much history here from pre-Roman times to the present.  It's an exciting part of London that is being redeveloped and it is well worth a visit.  

I started out across the London City Airport, located on Gallions Point Marina near the Royal Docks in the London Borough of Newham. Boats, planes, trucks, trains -- there is a lot going on here.


As I walked along the water front, I saw stunning new developments as well as empty and abandoned warehouses and factories like these one.  I wonder what will be here in a few year's time?  There is a lot of potential in this part of London. 

One of the newer developments on the docklands is Emirate Airline's cable-car which crosses the River Thames in East London, between The Royal Docks near Canning Town and the Greenwich Peninsula. It is sponsored by Emirates Airline, hence its title. The Royal Docks Terminal, on the north side, is close to the Excel Centre (a huge convention center). The Greenwich Peninsula Terminal, on the south side, is close to the O2 Arena. 

The cable-car ride takes 5 minutes to go from one side to the other and the views of London and the docks below are truly spectacular. 

I didn't expect to find an open water swimming club next to the docks.  I also was surprised to find an urban man-made beach with lovely, soft sand and plenty of kids happily playing. 

The round domed building with the yellow cranes on top is the O2 Arena, a state-of-the-art arena that includes a bowling alley, clubs, cinema, exhibition spaces, restaurants and shopping.  The only event I've attended at the O2 was a para-Olympic women's basket ball event. I'd love to see a concert there sometime. 


I continued to walk along the water front to Canary Wharf and discovered the Museum of the London Docklands.  It's a wonderful museum that covers the history of the river Thames and the docks and port of London through the centuries.  I could have spent the rest of the afternoon there since there is so much history here -- from Roman times, through the centuries, the World Wars, and the centuries of the slave trade. If you feel like you've been to all the museums London has to offer, this is one that shouldn't be missed, especially if you love history.   

Canary Wharf sits in the middle of the Isle of Dogs, called that because Henry the 8th kept his hunting dogs here for his deer park at Greenwich. Since the 1980, it has been redeveloped on top of the old East End docklands. If you pay attention, the evidence of trade and shipbuilding is still here. Some of old dock areas have been preserved, some with the original cranes, some with sailing and water sports and a few with old barges and sailing ships. New parks have sprung up around the water front with cafes, restaurants and cycle paths and walkways. 

Canary Wharf is also one of London's two main financial centers.  As you walk around you'll see every bank imaginable as well as trendy shops, a shopping mall, and loads of restaurants and street food stalls.  There is still so much to explore of the docklands, I can hardly wait to return. 

'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.'

Samuel Johnson, 177