Thursday, November 17, 2016

UK's Strangely Named Places

One of the many things I love about the UK are the creative and odd names of places.  Some of the best include: Dull, Lost, Nasty, Great Snoring, Matching Tye, Horrid Hill, Donkey Town, Loose Bottom, Blubberhouses, Upton Snodsbury, and Rest and be Thankful.  I especially like that last one.  It's a great name and good advice, especially during these unsettled times.  

I'd love to hear about your favorite oddly named place and where it is located. Let me know.  


Sunday, October 2, 2016

White Horse Hill, Wayland Smithy Long Barrow, and the Great Coxwell Barn

Recently my daughter came for a visit.  Kate loves to explore places that are off the beaten path so one day we headed south west to see the Uffington White Horse Hill and to explore the unique complex of Iron Age sites that are found at the White Horse Hill and in the surrounding area. 

Our first stop was the Blowing Stone, a perforated sarsen stone that apparently makes a booming sound when anyone with the required skill blows into one of the perforations in a particular way. According to legend, this was how King Alfred summoned his Saxon troops for the Battle of Ashdown, against the Vikings. Also, according to legend, a person who is capable of making the blowing stone sound a note that is audible atop Uffington White Horse Hill will be a future King of England. 

The Blowing Stone wasn't easy to find. Best to go the Blowing Stone Pub and ask for direction.

Next stop was the White Horse which is created from long curving lines made of trenches dug in the hillside, then filled with chalk, each up to ten feet wide and about 365 feet long. The horse dates back to 1200 to 800 BC . Why it was created and what it's purpose was remains a mystery.

From White Horse Hill you can see Dragon Hill, a small roundish hill with a flat top.  This is said to be the site where St George, England's patron saint, slew the dragon.  You can also see for miles in each direction. On a clear day you can see to six different counties from the top of this hill.

This small valley is called the Manger and has steep rippled sides that were created during the last Ice Age. The ripples are known as the Giant’s Steps and were possibly used in the earliest form of terraced farming in England during the bronze age.  

On the top of this hill is a Iron Age hilltop fort known as Uffington Castle.  It forms the highest point in Oxfordshire at 860 feet above sea level.  

About a mile away, as the crow flies, is Wayland Smithy's Cave, a large chambered long barrow neolithic burial site. The site originally started out as a wooden mortuary structure with a stone floor surrounded by sarsen boulders and chalk. 

Human remains found on the site indicate that 14 people were interred in the earlier burial structure between 3590 and 3550 BC. Between 3460 and 3400 BC a second far larger barrow was constructed on top. This burial ground is older than the most famous pyramids of Egypt! The cave entrance is, of course, sealed off. 

There are four large sarsen stones at the entrance to the chamber; there were originally six, three on either side of the entrance. The four remaining stones were found lying in front of the monument and restored in 1962.  

On the way back to Oxford we came across the Great Coxwell Barn -- a large 13th-century tithe barn on the northern edge of the village of Great Coxwell.

The barn is built of Cotswold stone, with rubble walls and ashlar corner stones for buttresses and window and door openings. The entire building is topped by huge slate roof of Cotswold stone. 

The 13th century tithe barn was built by the monks of Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire. At that time the abbey held a monastic grange at Coxwell (a grange being a farm worked for the abbey's benefit). The grange was operated by a combination of hired servants and lay brothers, and this barn would have been just one of numerous farm buildings need to operate the grange. It's the only surviving building from the grange. 

When Henry VIII dissolved the Beaulieu Abbey in 1538 he appropriated their estates. Two years later in 1540, he sold Great and Little Coxwell to the bailiff of the Faringdon estate, one Thomas Moore. In the 18th century it became part of the Coleshill estate, and large doors were added in the gable ends of the barn, to admit large farm wagons. The tie beams were reinforced in the 19th century, and rafters replaced. The barn was gifted to the National Trust in 1956.

The barn is 144 feet long and 38 feet wide, with an internal area of 5,502 square feet. There is what appears to be a dovecot above the east door.

William Morris, the father of the Arts and Craft movement in England, called the barn the most impressive building in England, and 'as beautiful as a cathedral'. He often brought guests here to marvel at this impressive medieval building. I can see why. I also can't imagine that we build anything today, especially any kind of barn, that will last 700 years and look this incredible. 

For a lovely day of beautiful countryside, great views, interesting walks, neolithic sites, and spectacular 700-year-old tithe barn, head to the Berkshire Downs and the Uffington White Horse. It will not disappoint. Below are links with more information on the Blowing Stone, the White Horse Hill, the Wayland Smith's Long Barrow, and the Great Coxwell Tithe Barn.

The Blowing Stone

Uffington White Horse

Wayland Smithy Long Barrow

Great Coxwell Barn

Our route on Google Maps

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Snowshill Lavender, Village, and Manor House

Tucked away in the rolling hills between the charming Cotswold villages of Snowshill and Broadway is a beautiful farm that grows all sorts of lavender. It's a sight to behold, especially when the lavender in full bloom.  Best to come in late June and July when the lavender is at it's peak. It's breathtaking. 

It's a third generation farm that originally grew wheat and barley.  Lavender was first planted here in 2000 and it seems to thrive in the dry limestone cotswold soil.  The farm now grows over 35 different varieties, some 70 miles of rows, and 250,000 plants in total.  

The farm's crops -- Cotswold Lavender --  are gently picked by a special harvester (the only one of its kind in the U.K.) and then steam distilled on the farm and made into unique and all natural lavender products. The farm has a store that sells it's luscious products and gifts as well as a tea room. We had a lunch of a freshly made sandwich and lavender flavored ice cream, which tastes exactly like how lavender smells.

There is a £3.50 fee to wander through the fields and I think it's definitely worth it.  The color and scent of the lavender, combined with the gorgeous rolling Cotswold landscape, makes it an amazing, almost other worldly experience.  

For more information:  Cotswold Lavender Farm

As I walked through the fields this old English song (that dates back to the 17th century) kept running through my head:  

Lavender's blue, dilly, dilly;  lavender's green 

When I am king, dilly, dilly;  You shall be queen 

Who told you so, dilly, dilly;  who told you so?
'Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly;  that told me so.

When the farms lets a field go fallow and rest for a season, they plant it with wild flowers which is a perfect backdrop for the lavender.  

About a mile away from the lavender fields is the charming village of Snowshill, known for its unspoilt beauty and for the views over the Severn Vale to the west. It's tucked away in a bit of a valley sheltered by hills on three sides. 

Not to be missed is Snowshill Manor, owned by the National Trust. It is a typical Cotswold manor house, made from local stone.  The main part of the house dates from the 16th century but part of it was once the property of Winchcombe Abbey dating back to 821. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the Abbey was confiscated by King Henry VIII who then gave it to his 6th wife, Katherine Parr. 

Between the early 1600's and 1919 it had a number of tenants and owners, many of them absentee,  so it gradually fell into a state of disrepair.  
Charles Paget Wade bought estate and rebuilt the ruined manor beginning in 1919. 

More about Charles Paget Wade:  He was born in 1883 and trained as an architect.  In 1911 Wade's father died and he inherited a share in the family business based on sugar estates in the West Indies. 

He served in France during World War and after the war purchased the estate at Snowshill. 

What Snowshill Manor is best known for, however, is not in the architecture but the interior furnishings. The house is a maze of rooms crammed full Wade's decidedly eclectic and eccentric collections of, well, just about everything. 

Wade started collecting things at the age of 7 and eventually built up a collection of more than 22000 items of furniture, clothing, paintings, all sort of other things.  His criteria for selecting items was that the piece was hand made and represented his interest in color, design and good craftsmanship. 

He bought and restored the house, not to live in but to use it for his collection and for entertaining, and he entertained great with flair the likes of contemporaries like Virginia Woolf and Queen Mary.  He lived in a small cottage in the garden and this was his bedroom.   

For 26 years, Wade lived unattached in the house.  He finally married in 1946, at the age of 63, and after that increasingly spent more time at his home in the West Indies.  In 1951 he gave his estate to the National trust and died in 1956. The house and collection are pretty much as they were when he died.  

It is hard to describe the collection at Snowshill. The rooms are filled with fascinating clocks, toys, musical instruments, masks, spinning wheels, weaving and spinning tools, Japanese armor, to name a few. 

For me the house is an absolute surprise.  It's a rambling jumble of delightfully odd, unusual, beautifully designed, and thought-provoking objects. The house and garden are lovely and there are so many interesting things to explore. One could return again and again and see something new and intriguing each time.  

If fascinating clutter and over stuffed rooms aren't to your liking, the garden, grounds and views are lovely. Lavender fields, charming village, National Trust manor, and the most unusual collection and interesting things -- I look forward to returning.