Living Ashore 2013

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Stinchcombe Hill on the Cotswold Way.      PREVIOUS PAGE
It rained for a solid three weeks then on New Years Day the sun came out so we headed for the hills, the Cotswolds.
The last time we walked from Wotton to North Nibley where we looked across the valley to Stinchcombe Hill from the Tyndale Monument. On this occasion we decided to walk around the edge of Stinchcombe Hill following the Cotswold Way as we reasoned that this was likely to be less muddy than at lower levels.
In 1964 I joined Lister Blackstone Marine and for several years was based in Dursley where the range of Lister engines were then manufactured so it is an area with which I was familiar. Much had changed in the interim. They have knocked down the old Lister service school but the pub I frequented for my daily ploughmans lunch was still upright.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."
John Ruskin 1819 - 1900
They have a new Sainsbury and a swimming pool with a new road bypassing the main street which is now pedestrianised but the old place still looks as shabby chic as ever and that is being kind!
I managed to find my way up onto Stinchcombe Hill and parked beside the golf course with many others who were probably regretting their earlier revels. Sue and I saw in the new year with Jules Holland on the TV while we consumed a celebratory bottle of Shampoo. We retired at 1-30am so were relatively fit. We walked in glorious sunshine in a clockwise direction around the perimeter of the Golf course which took us about two hours.
Panorama from Stinchcombe Hill looking North.
The above panorama looks north with the outskirts of Dursley in the foreground and Stroud in the distance. The pointed hill to the right of centre is Peaked Down while a little to the left and behind it is Cam Long Down. The Cotswold Way traverses over both of these hills and is a likely candidate for our next excursion when the sun shines again, if it does before we get afloat again!
Panorama from Stinchcombe Hill looking NE.
The next panorama looks North East over the town of Dursley. It looks much better from a distance although there are some nice houses away from the town centre!! The Hill to the left of centre is Downham Hill which is hiding Uley Bury, an Iron Age fort dating from 300BC around which skirts the Cotswold Way.
Nibley Green from Stinchcombe Hill looking SE.The shot on the left is taken from close to the car park looking South West over the Severn Valley.
After our exertions we retired to one of the main tourist attractions of Dursley, the Old Spot Inn, one of the best pubs you can find anywhere and a CAMRA winner of the best Gloucestershire pub for many years. A delectable pint of Butcombe was served by a landlord who was still suffering from the previous nights festivities and drinking a non alchoholic beverage! The pub is named after a rare breed of pig called the Gloucester Old Spot which is highly recommended to eat if you can find it. As we returned to the car it began to rain.
The weather remained dull and overcast for the next week or so but at least it was mainly dry so the flooding here in the West Country was eased.
We went to see "Quartet", a film starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtney and Billy Connelly, an eclectic bunch of elderly actors directed by 75 year old Dustin Hoffman! The first film he has directed.Looking Southwest to Peaked Down and Stinchcombe Hill. It had us both laughing as it gently lampooned the problems of the elderly. It is set in an elderly peoples home for retired musicians, the finale being a money raising musical gala for Verdi's birthday culminating in the singing of his Quartet from Rigaletto. Most of the other actors were retired musicians in real life and the whole film was a delight with Wilf (Connelly) urinating at will around the grounds of the house and propositioning anything in a skirt!
On the second sunny day of the year we set off again for the Cotswolds, this time a little further North of Dursley and joined the Cotswold way at Cam Long Down. It was a little misty as you can see from the photo above looking back to Peaked Down but quite a hot sun had me sweating up the hill and regretting my heavy winter waterproof.
Looking NE along the ridge of Cam Long Down.
We followed the Way along the ridge then steeply down into the valley which was very slippery. The steep ascent up on to Uley Bury confirmed the redundancy of my jacket which I carried for the rest of the walk. There is a road at the top and good parking so that will probably be a starting point for another walk in the future.
L to R Stinchcombe Hill, Peaked Down and Cam Long Down from Uley Bury.
The photo above shows a panorama from the edge of Stinchcome Hill on the extreme left, then the pointed top of Peaked Down. We joined the Cotswold Way from the other side of the hill, walking up to the Col between Peaked Down and Cam Long DownUnavoidable mud. which we traversed to the end, then about 200 metres down, across the valley and up 200 metres again to Uley Bury from where the above photo is taken. This ancient Iron Age Fort was occupied by a Celtic people from about 300BC to 100AD and the earthworks extend over a mile around the perimeter of this spur so there must have been a sizeable population here at one time. They farmed sheep, produced cloth and made iron bars for coinage. From coinage found on site they were possibly from the Dobunni tribe as North Somerset, Bristol and Gloucestershire was their 'manor'! The Romans systematically destroyed most of these settlements after their invasion of Britain.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. "
Donald Rumsfeld 1932 -
We walked down off the end of the spur and back across the valley. I say walked but it was more like a stagger as we encountered glutinous mud on the way together with a landslip so it was not the best finish to our walk. The pint of Butcombe afterwards in the Old Spot pub in Dursley hit the right spot though!
A couple of days later we were charged with dog sitting Tilly the Wonder Dog (TTWD) which coincided with yet another sunny day but this time it was much clearer. TTWD's Mummy Jan dropped her off in the morning while Sue was busy down at the leisure centre at her Pilate class (9-15am start!) and on her return we decided to go walking again. It would be no fun at all wandering around muddy fields and having to wash down TTWD afterwards so we decided to head for the hills again as we knew that the tops were relatively dry.
L to R Cam Long Down and Uley Bury from Peaked Down.
We drove once again to the car park below Peaked Down and walked up to the top. Every Easter the folk from Dursley and Cam have for centuries come up this hill and rolled hard boiled eggs down it! All over England they do daft things like that and a little further North on the Cotswold Way they don't even bother with eggs, but instead roll cheeses, racing after them down Coopers Hill themselves, usually breaking a few limbs in the process! Further North still, in Lancashire and Yorkshire, they go around in groups Pace Egging which involves performing a humorous play, collecting Pace Eggs (Pace derived from the Latin Pacha meaning Easter) in payment or anything else they can persuade the audience to donate such as beer! In the late sixties I sang in a folk group called The Ghillies (a Ghilly is a Scottish gamekeeper) in Edinburgh and we used to sing a Pace Egging song. I can still remember it:-

Click on the player to hear the music
or click here.
Score of the pace egging song.
The above lyrics are the chorus and there are several verses as I remember involving Lord Collingwood, Lord Nelson and Tosspot who is the 'Fool' of the Pace Eggers who collects payment!!
For anyone interested I use a program called Musescore to write the score, capture the result by screen grabbing using Paintshop Pro and save it as a jpg file, then saving the musescore file as a midi which I edit with a program called Anvil Studio. Unfortunately different browsers do not play all types of file in embedded media players. Windows media player works for the coding I have used in the latest IE and Firefox browsers so if it doesn't play in your browser, try changing to Windows media player.
Looking over the town of Cam from Peaked Down.
At the top of Peaked Down we exchanged pleasantries with a local couple and were joined by another walking his Jack Russell who TTWD chased round and round the summit with gay abandon!
Tilly the Wonder Dog on Cam Long Down. Above is the view from the top of the hill. On the left is the edge of Stinchcombe Hill and you are looking West over the river Severn towards the Forest of Dean where the Iron age inhabitants of this area found their iron ore. Directly below in the valley is the small town of Cam which borders Dursley.
We then walked back down the hill and up on to Cam Long Down, which gets its name from the town below, with TTWD bounding ahead. We met up with other dog walkers and there is no doubt that having TTWD meant we would stop and pass the time of day with people who otherwise we would not engage in conversation so dog walking can be a good way to meet people. Being a Wonder Dog, Tilly is very well behaved and when I asked her to pose on top of Cam Long Down for the camera she dutifully obliged.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"You call to a dog and a dog will break its neck to get to you. Dogs just want to please. Call to a cat and its attitude is, 'What's in it for me?' "
Lewis Grizzard 1946 - 1994
A weather miracle meant that we had three sunny days in the same week, albeit an extremely cold Sunday with a hard frost and the temperature only a few degrees above zero. We set off North again to further explore the Cotswold Way, this time starting in the village of King Stanley just South of Stonehouse. As you enter the village you pass what is one of the largest old cloth mills in this area of the Cotswolds, Stanley Mill, which was built in 1813 using a unique cast iron constuction method and is designated grade I listed, possibly being the only building of it's type left. English Heritage has spent a few hundred thousand to save it from dereliction and the arguments continue as to what to do with it but, as with other old Gloucestershire mills, it will probably be converted to a mix of housing and commercial units. The mills around here were originally water powered until the arrival of steam engines in the 1920's and 30's.
Looking down over Middleyard and King Stanley.
Parking in the car park at the recreation park we walked over to the corner and across a footbridge to join the Cotswold Way. In 2007 the path was diverted to offer two different routes creating the option for us of a nice circular walk of around 5 miles. The path first climbs up through the village of Middleyard before arriving at the southern junction where the path divides. We turned left and followed the path through the woods which contours around the scarp face before climbing steeply up and out onto Selsley Common.
Selsley Common.
Literally every man and his dog was out on the common and Sue remarked that it was more like Crufts than the Cotswolds. We walked over to the end of the hill and the Toots, an Iron Age burial ground where you look down over the 19th century Selsley All Saints Church with Stroud beyond in the valley below.
Selsley Church from Selsley Common with Stroud beyond.
Selsley Church has stained glass windows by leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement such as William Morris and Ford Maddox-Brown. The church was built under the patronage of Sir Samuel Stephens Marling. The Marling family became the owners of Stanley Mill and his company still exists, manufacturing floor coverings in more modern buildings beside the old mill and are still the owners.Selsley Church, Ebley Mill and Stroud beond. To the right of the church tower and lower down the valley is Ebley Mill which was also part of the Marling empire.
Here you can see Sue walking down off Selsley Common towards the church. We walked down the road towards the village and resisted the temptation of the Bell Inn which required a short detour!
Quotes 'wot I like:
"New Zealand is a country of thirty thousand million sheep, three million of whom think they are human. "
Barry Humphries 1934 -
Instead we turned left off the road and down through a huge field of sheep, one of which came up to us for a stroke and hundreds of them began ba-a-a-ing setting up quite a din and possibly thinking we had bought their dinner!
At the bottom of the field, through a kissing gate and the Cotswold way has it's own traffic light controlled pedestrian crossing across the busy A419 road from where we walked along the cycle track, past Ebley Mill before turning right across a field and a river bridge to arrive at the Stroudwater Canal.Ryeford double lock. This canal was opened in 1779 and linked Stroud with the River Severn. Ten years later the Thames and Severn canal was built from Stroud to Lechlade on the Thames, climbing 350 feet by 56 locks through the Cotswolds. In 1972 the Cotswold Canal Trust was formed to promote the restoration of this navigation. Over £20 million has already been spent from local and district councils and the lottery fund. The original canal was filled in at the A38 crossing and the M5 motorway and £16 million is required to tunnel under these roads and link it again to the Sharpness canal but one day it will be done and you will be able to navigate once again between the Severn and the Thames providing your boat is no longer than 6o feet.
Stroudwater Navigation at Ryeford. At Ebley where we joined the canal a very attractive new housing development had been built, enhanced by the newly restored canal flowing through it. Further along the towpath we passed the Ryeford double lock which has been completely restored. A little further on the river and canal run close to each other only separated by the towpath.
From here it was back across the A419 and just under a mile back to King Stanley, a total of 5 miles which took us about 3.5 hours of moderately difficult walking.
The weather had to change after so many good days and it did change with a vengance; snow in prodigous quantities! The old M48 Severn Bridge across to Chepstow was closed with the heavy snow and blizzard conditions and the forecast was for more of the same. We were supposed to be travelling down the next day to Hampshire to help my daughter and her family move in to their new home.Snow at Bradley Stoke. Pickfords said the day before that the move would go ahead despite the forecast weather conditions so the family started from Devon at 6am and drove through the snow for six hours to arrive there and be told that conditions were too dangerous for the removal truck to make the trip.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow. "
Sara Coleridge 1802 - 1852
I was getting the road conditions off the web and diverting the family by phone as accidents and road closures were reported. Pickfords did manage to deliver mattresses and bedclothes in a transit van, enabling them to camp in their new house, but the main delivery was put back four days so we delayed our trip until then. Full marks though to Pickfords who reacted quickly to my email complaining about their decision to go ahead with the move although the sensible plan would have been to postpone it following the dire weather forecast.
The main delivery was made a few days later and we spent a "happy" couple of days erecting and screwing various items of furniture to walls and unpacking boxes. There was no place for us to sleep so we booked in to a pub in Portsmouth right next to a busy road so we did not sleep. They served a good breakfast but the less said about the rest the better! We bought fish and chips for everyone which were also a minor disaster but on the final night treated everyone to the usual Pizza Express in Port Solent enhanced by a 40% off voucher from the web!
Later with the Harpers, Les was waxing lyrical about a pub called The Victory Inn at a place called Staplefield on the Sussex High Weald so we ended up there for lunch the next day.The Victory Inn at Staplefield. The pub seems to be run by two ladies and the cooking is highly recommended as is the beer. Les and I had Moules in a creamy Pernod sauce with Frites of course and the girls had Scotch eggs with a difference. Duck eggs were soft boiled then chilled to stop them cooking, wrapped in a smoked haddock, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried. When cut open the egg yolk was still soft and runny and they both said it was delicious. Nice atmosphere and inexpensive as when I paid the bill and said 'dank-u-wel', as you do, the serving wench said 'alstublief' which was rather a shock. Turns out she had a Belgian mother and a Dutch boyfriend!
The snow had largely gone during our drive back and the sun shone for a few hours so we went the pretty way, stopping for half an hour at Marlborough, a picturesque market town and it was market day so we stocked up with vegetables and broke the bank in Andrews, the local butchers with a rib roast.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"John Henry Newman was as English as roast beef, even if he lacked a passion for cricket."
Clifford Longley 1940 -
We bought some Old Spot sausages and told them we hoped they were as good as the Worthing butcher who claimed to make the best in the world! We took a bit of stick for that especially when we rubbed it in further by suggesting that the Grants haggis they were selling was not up to Macsweens. "How dare we say that, Grants was far better", so we bought one to try! They gave us some money off and a free canvas bag. We ate the rib roast the next day and it was the bees knees!
We had booked a month previous for a symphony concert in Birmingham which meant we had to stay the night so Sue was all prepared for a shopping expedition whilst we also planned some further research on where we might live in the future. We booked a room at the Hampton by Hilton in Broad Street not far from Symphony Hall for £58 bed and breakfast. After our experience in Portsmouth we did not expect anything special for that money which even included secure parking in the middle of England's second biggest city. What a surprise then when the room was five star luxury on the sixteenth floor and the breakfast was the full monty! We will certainly use these hotels again when we can.
The Birmingham Art Gallery. I was born just outside the city but moved with my parents to Somerset at the age of nine. I remember well the old trams, which like many other cities they are in the process of reintroducing, and the names and geography of the main streets. We came here on a canal boat last over thirty years ago and it is now barely recognisable. The town hall, where my parents brought me to concerts, used to dominate the surroundings but is now one of the smallest buildings in the area!
We found Symphony Hall and decided on a pre-concert meal at Pushkars, an up market Indian which Sue had researched on the web. We then managed to find New Street which has been completely pedestrianised as has most of the shopping streets. We ended up at the Bull Ring which I remember as a sea of market stalls and of course was destroyed years ago with the building of a huge shopping centre. The church of St Martins is the only remnant of the old Bull Ring and the shopping centre has the same old international chains you will find in similar places throughout the country. I watched loads of women sorting through tops at Zara, one of the most successful fashion shops, which were just chucked on a table in a pile at twenty quid each.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"They bought her an exclusive beat on the shady side of Jermyn Street."
Anon
Thankfully in the streets around you can still find individual shops that offer traditional quality service. One such we found was a branch of Hawes and Curtis from Jermyn Street in London who have been making and selling shirts since 1931. They had a sale on of Ladies shirts from £15 each which Sue could not resist and she even persuaded me to invest in a mans long collar slim fitting casual shirt which a young man buying stuff for a job interview assured me looked terrific! The assistants would unwrap any shirt you liked so you could try it on to ensure the correct fit which took a long time as there were so many to choose from and nothing was too much trouble. I think they said they had 4,000 shirts in stock and we were in there for hours, even going back the next day for more!
Quotes 'wot I like:
"I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food."
W.C. Fields 1880 - 1946
The meal at Pushkars was, according to Sue, the best Indian food we have ever tasted, even better than Ma Goa's in London. I must say that my Tariwala Murgh, chicken breast cooked in a spicy tomato sauce was exceptional while Sue declared her Punjabi Nali Gosht to be incredible, a Lamb Shank in a rich sauce which just fell off the bone. We had the usual poppadums and chutneys to start, a pint of Kingfisher and a glass of wine all came to an agreeable £45 which considering the quality of the food, prompt service, ambience and such touches as cloth napkins was impressive.
The Chamberlain monument and clock tower. When we booked the concert on the internet there were only two seats left in the area we wanted to sit but when we were actually seated we were the only two people in the same row and there were quite a few empty seats around. We had come to see the Labèque sisters play concerto's for two piano's by Mozart and Poulenc with Nicholas McGegan conducting. There have not been that many such concerto's written and here we were to be treated to two at the same time.
The concert began with Poulenc's Suite française, written in a medieval style for woodwinds and brass which is McGegans acknowledged speciality. Our seats were perfect for admiring the pianistic skills of Marielle Labèque and Mozart's concerto was performed with the usual sensitive interpretation you would expect from the world famous CBSO and it's conductor. The fireworks really began in the second half with Poulenc's concerto. Poulenc often composed using various others styles and Prokofiev, Ravel, Stravinsky and Mozart could all be heard in this work. Additionally he used Parisian dance music and gamelan sounds so the concerto is a kaleidoscope of different musical textures. One minute you were listening to lyrical romantic Rachmaninov type of music, the next Marielle was hammering out complex rhythms, leaping off her piano seat in her enthusiasm for the music reminiscent of Prokofiev. The applause was equally enthusiastic and demanded an encore.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"On the radio a lady has been caterwauling for a quarter of an hour some songs which may very well have been mine!"
Francis Poulenc 1899 - 1963
Mozart's 39th symphony concluded the concert and we both know every note but I heard a performance here which was full of subtle feeling, particularly from the strings in the slower movements, the maestro McGegan at his best and thoroughly enjoying himself, jumping up and down on his dais during the Finale. The symphony ends unexpectedly at which point McGegan turned to the audience with outstretched arms as if to say "Da-Da-a-a"!
We slept well high up on the 16th floor and ate a hearty breakfast before checking out. We told reception we wanted to do some more shopping and they said we could leave the car in their car park as long as we liked. We wanted to buy a CD of Poulenc's concerto from the Symphony Hall shop. First it was closed until 11am then when we returned there was a sign on the door saying "back in 10 minutes". Twenty minutes later he appeared but did not have any CD's left! We wandered into the Bachus bar for coffee which is a replica of a cathedral crypt before walking back to the car and driving to Stourport-on-Severn.
Flowerdew's at Bromyard. Stourport grew with the completion of the Staffs and Worcester Canal in 1772 and declined after the completion of the Birmingham and Worcester Canal in 1815. We were here in a canal boat 30 years ago but continued on down the River Severn without stopping so wanted to check it out. The town is a complete Georgian canal town but has, as they say, "been let go", so not a "des res". After a brief wander down the main drag and a contribution to the local economy with the purchase of a T-bone steak, dry cured bacon and black pudding, we asked Daphne Satnav to take the scenic route back to Bradley Stoke and off we went across the Severn through glorious Worcestershire countryside into Herefordshire. The stunning views across to the Malvern Hills continued as we turned South until we arrived at the little town of Bromyard.
Church Lane Ledbury. Now my geography is pretty good but I had never heard of Bromyard and when we took afternoon tea here with Mrs Flowerdew at her nice old tearoom, she told me that, up until she found it six years previously, neither had she, so I didn't feel so bad. It is a town of about 4,500 souls and has a good collection of shops, half timbered pubs and houses, even a theatre. It is 12 miles equidistant from Worcester, Leominster and the county town, Hereford, set in the midst of spectacular countryside and well worth a visit if you are passing as the A44 from Worcester to Leominster by-passes it.
The next major town travelling South was Ledbury and Sue fell instantly in love with the place. At the centre of the town is a timber framed market house and it has a wide main street typical of market towns.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"Anything is good if it's made of chocolate."
Jo Brand 1957 -
It is full of interesting shops of all kinds including delicatessens, a chocolatier, book shops, fashion shops (Sue's black belt in shopping was put to good use!), even an ice cream shop and loads of half timbered houses and pubs. Church lane leading up from the main street is just picture postcard stuff so Ledbury is the latest candidate for the list of places we would like to live.
Gloucester was about half an hours drive away where we hit the M5 motorway and an uneventful run down to Bradley Stoke after a most enjoyable couple of days.
The Saturday after was the first games of the 120th Six Nations Rugby. Last years champions Wales kicked off against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium and had a disastrous first half. They were 3-30 down shortly after half time. They finally got their act together but the lead was too great and it finished 22-30.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"A hooligans game played by gentlemen."
Winston Churchill 1874 - 1965
England then played Scotland at Twickenham who came out, as expected against the "auld enemy" all guns blazing and scored the first try. England always looked the better side though and gradually dominated the game to win comfortably 38-18. I was impressed with England's game, particularly the speed they recycled the ball at the breakdown but Scotland were much improved and do not look like wooden spoon fodder this year despite recent bad form, two really good games to start the competition. England Saxons were beaten by Scotland A in a close game 9-13 but our English ladies drubbed the Scots 76-0! To finish on a high our lovely Bath boys saw off Gloucester at Kingsholm 5-32 in an LV cup game.
The day after saw us back down in Somerset at the invitation of the Rowbathans. After one of their extended lunches with the Cliffords, for which they are renowned, the gentlemen retired with the port to watch the last six nations game Italy v France in Rome. What a good game, nip and tuck for most of it with the Azzurri playing out of their skins to stay ahead. It was 23-18 in the last few minutes with Italy down to 14 men and France camped on the Italian try line and that was the way it stayed, an historic win.
Regular readers may have noticed that a Twitter logo had appeared on our home page. I signed up with Twitter to try and discover what attracted people to participate in this inane activity! After several weeks of reading a load of useless short messages from the twitterati, I have deactivated my account after deciding it was a complete waste of my bandwidth but was unable to discern why other people do it?
Quotes 'wot I like:
"Watching TV is the most popular leisure activity in Britain. I find that very depressing."
Jeremy Paxman 1950 -
You may also have read of the theft of our old laptop last year and that the TV tuner software we used to look at TV in our wheelhouse was not compatible with windoze 7/8 on the replacement laptop. A tuner that would work with the latest OS was available but cost about £100 and I discovered that in the UK you can buy a 19 inch LED HD TV with built in DVD player, Freeview ready for much the same price so we bought one. The local lovely Argos had two in stock in their Bradley Stoke shop, one of which I reserved on line and collected later, plugged in and tested. Works a treat so we don't need to power up the laptop, tuner and monitor on board now to watch TV and this new telly gives us a bigger picture whilst only consuming 14w. Interestingly, when you buy they check on line if you have a TV licence so it seems that big brother BBC is watching you!
Blaise Castle. The next Friday the weather looked promising so Jan brought TTWD round and we set off down the M5 for the Mendips. The weather turned nasty so we diverted to Clifton Down but Tilly was not 'appy with a half hour romp so I scoured the map for somewhere else. We managed to find our way to Dingle Coombe, part of the Blaise Castle estate owned now by Bristol City Council. It was described in Jane Austin's novel Northanger Abbey as being "the finest place in England" and even in the grip of winter is a lovely place to wander around. The house was built in the late 18th century by a wealthy Bristol merchant and banker and is now a museum with the estate grounds open to the public.
We walked up the coombe on a paved road then crossed the brook and quickly found ourselves up to our ocksters in mud, arriving eventually at the castle in the photograph above on the top of the hill which is actually a folly but was inhabited for most of it's history, the manor house being further down on the other side of the hill. There is a great view down the coombe and across Westbury on Trim from the top of the cliff known as Lovers Leap.
Looking down Dingle Coombe from Lovers leap.
A path leads back down to the head of the coombe and an easy walk on a paved road back down to the car at the bottom with TTWD taking frequent baths in the brook to clean off the mud.
The next weekend of Rugby saw Scotland at Murrayfield easily beating Italy 34-10 who failed to produce the same performance as the previous week against an immaculate defence, meanwhile Our gorgeous Bath boys trounced Worcester 32-9 rolling in four tries at the Rec. Wales performed a minor miracle on a ploughed field in Paris beating France 16-6 clinching it only in the last few minutes with a spectacular try in the corner by George North intercepting a perfectly judged kick by Dan Biggar. The Ireland England match in Dublin was held on a wet and cold day so you knew it was never going to be a great game by two evenly matched sides. The Irish handling was poor, their penalty count high and their discipline atrocious, not helped by poor French refereeing. Cian Healy stamped on Cole's ankle in the ruck which could have finished Cole's career and in front of the referee who ignored it. He later sent Haskell to the sin bin for interfering with the ball as he tried to extricate himself from a ruck, not IMHO a sending off offence unlike the earlier incident. No worries though as England added 6 more penalty points while Haskell was off and won the game 6-12. England are now the only unbeaten side capable of a grand slam and lead the table.
Weston-Super-Mare from Brean Down.
We wandered into Bristol Art Gallery on one bitterly cold day while we waited for our car to be serviced. Unfortunately it was half term and full of screaming kids so we beat a hasty retreat and stayed warm in the Galleries shopping centre at Broadmead.
Brean Down is a promontory extending out into the Bristol Channel about 1.5 miles from the Somerset levels towards Wales on the other side. It is a National Trust property which is uninhabited now apart from a few goats and on a fine day, lots of people walking their dogs. After climbing the 100 metres to the top you are rewarded by spectacular views across to Weston-Super-Mare, the 10 miles long sandy beach to the mouth of the River Parret across Bridgwater Bay and the Quantock Hills. To the North West are the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm with the coast line of South Wales beyond.
Looking inland to the Somerset Levels from Brean Down.
There is evidence of people living here from the Stone Age and there is also an Iron Age fort but it has also a more recent history. From 1864 the construction of a fort was begun on the headland which was part of the defences against a possible invasion by the French. In WWII the fort was re-armed with large guns and machine gun emplacements as it was on the flight path of German bombers attacking Bristol and Cardiff from Northern France.
Steep Holm from the headland of Brean Down. Brean Down is really an outlier of the Mendip Hills and the photo above looks inland with the Mendips on the left, then the Somerset levels and Brent Knoll on the extreme right. The island of Steep Holm is also an extension of the Mendips which the sea cut off from the promontory. The Victorians also built a fort on the island and the old gun batteries and cannons are still largely intact. Again during WWII heavy guns, rocket launchers and searchlights were installed against air attacks and it is now a nature reserve administered by a trust. Regular trips are made for tourists to the island from Weston during the summer months by the trust where there are the remains of a medieval priory and they even issue their own postage stamps!
We enjoyed renewing our acquaintance with Brean Down as did TTWD who, as usual, covered about three times the distance than us, quickly asleep on our return to the car.
It was a weekend off for the Six Nations Rugby sides but I am happy to record that our beautiful Bath boys triumphed yet again, beating London Irish at the Rec 40-16 for yet another bonus point in the Premier League.
TTWD on the Cotswold Way.The Monarchs Way.
A couple of days later saw us exploring another part of the Cotswold Way near Wotton-under-Edge. We began at Alderley walking South until the intersection with another long distance trail, the Monarchs Way. This path follows the escape route of Charles II after his defeat by Oliver Cromwell at Worcester in 1651 where many thousands of Scots, who fought for the Royalist cause and largely made up his army, were slaughtered. Charles watched the proceedings from the tower of Worcester Cathedral and then escaped North from Worcester to Boscabel House where he hid in an oak tree after failing to find a safe route through Wales. I suppose that is the reason so many pubs in England are called the Royal Oak. He then headed South to Stratford on Avon, continuing across the Cotswolds, Somerset and Dorset to Charmouth. He then travelled East following the coast through Hampshire and Sussex to Shoreham where he escaped by sea to France. The path follows his approximate escape route and is 651 miles in length, taking Charles six weeks to complete.
Snowdrops at Alderley.Clock at Wotton.
We only traversed Monarchs Way on this occasion for a couple of miles in the opposite direction to Charles but here it joins the Cotswold Way for several miles where we walked in November last year during our first exploration of that trail. At the top of the valley we found ourselves at the little village of Tresham and sat on a bench enjoying the winter sunshine and getting our breath back. It was all downhill on a paved road from here back to the car with TTWD on the lead, forcing a walking pace for Sue which I had trouble keeping up with! Back at Alderley we admired the clumps of Snowdrops and budding Daffodils before driving into Wotton where we also admired the town clock commemorating the reign of Queen Victoria prior to a swift pint of Maiden Voyage before returning home.
The England Rugby team continued it's winning ways at Twickers beating France 23-13 who turned up for the first time in the competition. Wales put Italy to the sword 9-26 in Rome and Scotland managed a 12-6 win at Murrayfield despite having little possession.
Quotes 'wot I like:
" The most scared I'd ever been was the first time I sang at a rugby match, Australia versus New Zealand, in front of one hundred thousand people. I had a panic attack the night before because people have been booed off and never worked again... just singing one song, the national anthem."
Hugh Jackman 1968 -
It looks like the Wales/England game in Cardiff in the last round might now be the only real obstacle to England winning the championship and the slam! France might yet end up with the wooden spoon having "null point" so far! Sad to report that Bath Rugby had a narrow defeat away at Northampton losing 25-23 ending their winning run but coming away though with a loosing bonus point.
We repeated our Birmingham trip again, staying once more at the Hampton by Hilton Hotel but this time on a Sunday night so it was even cheaper plus Expedia offered a further 10% discount so the room and breakfast was only £45! We had a meal at the Celebrity Indian Restaurant in Broad St. which had a pre 7pm deal of £13 for three courses. Not as good as Pushkars across the road but very acceptable.
The concert at Symphony Hall was the CBSO Youth Orchestra and we were first treated to Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. Ravel lost his right arm fighting for Austria in the first world war after which he wrote this piece but also commissioned more such scores for the left hand from many other famous European composers.
Quotes 'wot I like:
"We probably derive all our basic rhymes and themes from Nature, which offers them to us, pregnant with meaning in every animal noise."
Gustav Mahler 1860 - 1911
The soloist on this occasion was Frenchman Jean-Efflam Bavouzet who gave a virtuoso performance of this incredibly difficult piece after which the audience demanded an encore. He then played Debussy's Arabesque No 1 which put us in a more serene mood for Mahler's 5th Symphony which followed. The CBSO Youth Orchestra consists of young people aged from 14 to 21 trained by the CBSO staff and musicians. If you closed your eyes you could have been listening to the CBSO as I did during the slow movement made famous in the film "Death in Venice" and played with such feeling and intensity that it bought tears to your eyes!
On the drive up we explored the area around Stratford-on-Avon including Chipping Campden (too precious) Warwick and Henley in Arden (thumbs up), returning via Tenbury Wells (nice town), Leominster and the Wye Valley, then across the old Suspension Bridge across the Severn from Chepstow. The brackets contain Sue's opinion of places we might live in the future.
Dundry church. Dundry Hill is just south of Bristol and has been quarried extensively since Roman times. Much of it's stone was used to build Bristol, even Cardiff Castle and Dublin Cathedral used it. The church of St Michael at Dundry was built by Bristol Merchants in 1482 and used the stone perhaps to illustrate what the local stone was like as it has an unusually ornate design of tower which can be seen in other Bristol churches. On one bitterly cold February day we parked at Winford and with TTWD followed with some difficulty Monarchs Way to the top of Dundry hill which we circumnavigated taking a different route back. We had navigation problems all the way as the route was either badly waymarked or farmers had removed them when paths were shown on the map as going through the middle of a newly harrowed field but lacking local knowledge we made many detours, the last one due to a deep muddy pool which could not be avoided, necessitating a detour round a main road which had Sue complaining "how much further" much more than usual!
The West Country Derby between Bath Rugby and Gloucester at the Rec was a triumph for Bath 31-25 which put us 7th in the premiership table just 4 points behind Wasps and Gloucester and 7 points behind Northampton in fourth place so we still have a chance to get into the top four who play off for the cup final.
The cold weather improved for a couple of days and the thermometer registered double figures for the first time in weeks! We explored the Cotswold Way from Old Sodbury, walking up onto the escarpment to the iron age fort, recorded in the doomsday book as "Sopeberie". It was a large encampment as the earthworks surround an area of 11 acres. The Romans strengthened the defences and used the fort as part of their western frontier. It was subsequently used by Anglo Saxons and by King Edward IV prior to the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.
Sopeberie Fort near Old Sodbury.
The Six Nations the following weekend presented us with no really good games of Rugby. Wales beat Scotland at Murrayfield 18-28 with a record number of penalties of over 100 and a defective SA ref who loved the sound of his whistle! Ireland drew with France 13-13 on a cold and wet Dublin day in a game the home side should have won. England just managed to stay ahead of Italy at Twickers but could have easily lost after the Azzurri dominated the second half. The 18-11 score line means that if Wales beat England next week in Cardiff by at least 8 points they will win the championship, apart from preventing England winning the slam! It has the makings of a good game to watch.
Bath Rugby lost to Quins in their LV Cup semifinal, same as they did last year so nothing new there. More surprising was Sale beating Sarries in the other semi, but then I suppose most of Sarries top men were away playing badly for England!
We were treated to a visit from Sal and Les Harper during another spell of extremely cold weather which caused them to delay their visit by 24 hours due to being trapped in snowdrifts at their Worthing home! On their arrival we gave them a tour of Wells in Somerset, driving back through Cheddar Gorge which did not fail to impress.
Sue and Sally on Quantock Hills The following day was cloudless so we headed to where I lived during my formative years; the Quantock Hills in Somerset. The hills were designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the first AONB named in England in 1956 and is the place where I first began to appreciate the outdoors as a Boy Scout and later as the leader of the first Quantock Senior Scouts troop to be formed.
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Nether Stowey, the village near our home, and wrote much of his more famous work there. He became friends with William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy who rented Alfoxton Park at nearby Holford and together they published a volume of poetry in 1798 which is considered to be the start of the English Romantic Age. The Quantock scenery inspired all of them as it does those who visit today.
We drove up to Dead Woman's Ditch where we left Les to drive the car down to Holford and the rest of us set off West towards the sea. Dead Woman's Ditch was rumoured locally to be named after a the wife of John Walford whom he murdered in 1789 but it features on earlier maps so that is unlikely. I knew locals who claimed Walford pushed her down the old copper mine shaft at Dodington but what is certain is that he was hanged and gibbeted on the hill just above Dodington known today as Walfords Gibbet.
The Pack Way on the Quantocks.
The ground was partly frozen and there were still some remnants of snow around but it was crystal clear and a perfect day for walking. We eventually joined the Pack Way, so named as it evolved from the days pack horses carried cargo from ships at Quantoxhead to Bridgwater. There was a proposal to pave this track but fortunately it was not done and it remains the preserve of walkers and mountain bikers. The views out across the Bristol Channel to Wales are impressive and ahead of us we could see as far as Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor, the highest hill in Somerset at 1705 feet above sea level from the Quantock's ridge of around 1000 feet.
Holford Combe on Quantock Hills We walked as far as Bicknoller Post then dropped down into Hodders Combe which looked as though a hurricane had been through with so many trees having broken branches. It looked like many trees had been uprooted, probably as a result of so much rain over the last few years weakening the steep ground and then the roots unable stay rooted to withstand a high wind. We eventually arrived at the Plough Inn at Holford where Virginia Wolf spent some of her honeymoon and Les Harper had managed to remain sober waiting for us.
After lunch we set off back towards Bristol via Clarkes Village at Street where Sue and Sal acquired the third Dan for their black belts in shopping and I even succumbed to a half price pair of Ecco shoes!
Daffs and Croci at Lacock Abbey The next day we visited Lacock in Wiltshire, a village almost wholly owned by the National Trust. Nothing in the village centre was built much later than the 18th century and the Doomsday book records a population of 160 souls. The village has featured in many films and TV productions, notably the Harry Potter films, the TV series Pride and Prejudice and Cranford. There is also an Abbey here established in 1229 which was converted to a private residence after the dissolution.
We continued to Corsham for a very good lunch at the Hare and Hounds then on to the farm shop at Neston Park nearby whose produce features on the pub menu. The rain was back so we abandoned walking around Corsham which is an attractive town.
Lacock High Street.
It was the final weekend of the Six Nations Rugby where Italy first entertained us with a fine first time ever win over Ireland 22-15. There followed the main event of the day. England had to win for a grand slam or lose by less than 7 points to win the championship against a reborn Welsh side (they had lost eight games on the trot until the French game) in the Millennium Stadium with the roof closed and perhaps 50,000 of the 72,000 capacity consisting of rabid Welsh supporters baying for English blood. Add to the mix the referee, Steve Walsh, the Kiwi turned Australian who likes to be the star of any show and whose hair do and beard where trimmed to perfection darling, whose decisions, particularly on scrumaging, are a complete mystery to everyone except him!!
It was a hell of a game, despite the ref, and both sides played great Rugby with no quarter given. At half time there were no tries and the score was 12-3 with England under the cosh and giving away more penalties as a result, but in the second half England completely lost the plot. On paper England had the stronger bench but it was not the case. Wales ran in two tries, England heads dropped and Wales smashed them 30-3 with many Welsh fans experiencing heart failure, English fans wondering what happened to the team that beat the AB's a few weeks ago and thousands of young Welsh girls experiencing their first orgasm's!! A well deserved win by a dominant and experienced Welsh side over an inexperienced England. There would have been very few teams in the world that could have beaten Wales the way they played in the second half in every department and they all deserve a Lions place on that performance. France beat Scotland in Paris 23-16 but still finished with the wooden spoon so that was some consolation for England's defeat!
It was time to say our farewells to Bradley Stoke so we travelled down to Tichfield to see daughter Becky then on to Dover and the ferry to Calais, arriving back at Eeklo to discover we had left the door open on Harmonie the whole winter!!

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