Summer 2017

Summer 2017

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Dowsborough on the Quantock Hills, Somerset

June was supposed to be the start of summer but it became increasingly colder and wetter in the first weeks. I blamed global warming as usual
Daughter Rebecca and family went off on a cruise to Denmark and Norway. They were also supposed to go to Sweden but bad weather prevented that. We house and cat sat for them as well as driving them to and from Southampton. Pumpkin the cat rewarded us with one large rat and several mice, much to Sue's fright.


The one day of good weather that week we walked up over the Quantocks from Holford, up over Hare Knapp to Black Hill then along the Pack Way to Dead Woman's Ditch, up over the old hill fort of Dowsborough then back down over Woodlands Hill to join Coleridge Way and on down to Holford where we spotted what I think were a pair of Stonechats. Click on the link above to see a map of our walking route.


The British and Irish Lions rugby team played their first game against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians and just managed to beat them 7-13 with a lack lustre performance. Not surprising really considering they were only off the plane three days and had come out by Qantas taking 36 hours with a commercial break in Melbourne. They must have been so jet lagged they did not know what day it was.

No excuses though for a similar performance against Auckland Blues three days later which they managed to lose at the death 22-16 much to the delight no doubt of our Kiwi friends Byron and Terri who are big Blues fans.

We visited Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey which I had never visited before despite having lived a couple of miles away in my youth. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge spent three years here, writing the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Kahn, getting high on laudanum and over friendly with Dorothy Wordsworth. Together with William Wordsworth, Dorothy's brother, the three friends spent many days walking over the Quantocks whose beauty is said to have inspired all three poets.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The house was owned by Tom Poole who was Coleridge's friend and lived in Castle Street. The gardens of both were connected and artifacts in the house were inherited by another Tom Poole, a relation who lives in South Petherton.

We then headed down to South Petherton so Sue could get her hair cut like national treasure Judy Dench before returning to Cheltenham in time for the General Election when Theresa May suffered the humiliation of losing her majority in parliament, condemning the country to a hung parliament and having to rely on the Ulster DUP for support. This puts us in a much weaker position in the EU Brexit negotiations than would have been the case had she not called a snap election and then mishandled it.

The Conservative party and government ministers were hardly mentioned during her campaign which was very presidential.

"Vote for me and my strong and stable leadership" was her robotic war cry but the electorate didn't like her or her manifesto. Furthermore she introduced means tested pensioner benefits which most of us would accept but would not say what the cut off point would be. Likewise she said that people's houses would count as assets towards the cost of their care to be paid after death, then said the amount would be capped but would not say what the cap would be. Not only the elderly but anyone with a potential inheritance would be concerned when they did not have a proper idea what they were voting for. Well the month of May is out and Mrs May will not be far behind!

Sue with shepherd sculpture on Sherborne Estate

There were a few good things in the election from my point of view. The Fishy Lady, Ms Sturgeon, lost several of her MP's including the Fishy Man, Alex Salmond, and Angus Robertson the SNP leader in the Commons. Although the SNP won 33 of the 59 seats in Scotland, the combined vote for unionist parties far exceeded those who voted SNP so Scottish independence should not be on the table in the near future. The reduction from 56 MP's in SNP numbers should also prevent an unholy alliance with Labour with the Scots calling the shots whereas the DUP are pro Brexit.

Arch remoaner Nick Clegg lost his seat but LibDem leader Tim Farron just survived but has since resigned thank goodness. Our local Tory MP Alex Chalk was under pressure from the previous sitting LibDem MP but also survived with a reduced majority which we are both pleased about as he seems a good hard working local MP.

A few months ago I was sent a video of Vin Garbutt singing a caving song he wrote. I then wrote the score and published it here along with the video. I did not realise at the time that Vin was a long established solo folk song performer worthy of a long obituary in the Daily Telegraph. Vin died on 6th June after undergoing heart surgery. As far as I know his only caving song is published here.

Map of Sherborne Estate

Sherborne Estate in Gloucestershire(not to be confused with the Sherborne in Dorset) was purchased in 1551 by one Thomas Dutton. Subsequently his descendant James Dutton was created Baron Sherborne in 1784. The last Lord Sherborne died in 1982 and bequeathed the house and the estate to the National Trust.

The house is subdivided into apartments and is not open to the public but the estate is and there are a few nice walks. We parked at Ewepen Barn where there is information about the estate and a map of all the walks, then walked down to the village where we enjoyed a nice pot of tea with a slice of victoria sponge (as one does) at the village shop and tea room, sat outside in the garden with wall to wall 25C sunshine. Exhausting!

Cotswold Lion

At intervals on our walk there were sculptures. One of my ancestors who lived around here was a shepherd and the scene above could be him proffering a posy of buttercups to Sue. This area was important for wool production since Roman times and a breed was developed known as the Cotswold Lion, so named for its lion like mane. As wool production died out during the 19th century so did the Cotswold Lion which became a rare breed but there has been a resurgence thanks to conservationists and there are now over 50 flocks, mostly on the Cotswolds. Here is a picture of Adam from the TV programme Countryfile with a fine specimen.

In another part of the estate there are water meadows next to the River Windrush and the BBC TV programme Springwatch is filmed there. There is also a 17th century grandstand which is only open three days a week so we will be back to explore further.

Last summer one of our walks was from Stanton, between Winchcombe and Broadway, an outrageously pretty Cotswold village. Stanton appears in the Domesday Book, as 'land of the Church of Winchcombe', with 3 hides (c. 360 acres), 14 villagers, 3 smallholders and 6 slaves. The (annual rental) value was 3.0.0 (three times that of Birmingham).
This time we were in the village to have a look at 15 gardens, opened as part of the National Gardens Scheme. They ranged from small cottage gardens to large and ornate ones requiring teams of gardeners to maintain them.

Loch Ness Monster topiary at Stanton Nursery

We parked in the field behind Oak Piece Nursery and admired their Loch Ness Monster Topiary which is constructed from several trees and about 20 yards long.

Stanton was rescued in 1906 by Sidney Stott, who was an English architect, civil engineer and surveyor. Scott bought the entire estate and set to work restoring Stanton Court, a Jacobean manor house, and other historic houses in the village, adding a swimming pool and cricket pitch for residents. He also extended the village school, added heating and installed street lighting. His wealth came from designing cotton mills in which he also invested which were built in his home county of Lancashire but eventually around the world. He moved in to Stanton Court in 1913 becoming a benefactor to the Conservative Party and was created a Baronet in 1920 and High Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1925. He died in 1937 aged 79 and his son sold the estate in 1949 when it was divided up and acquired by individual purchasers.

Stanton Court Rose Garden

All the gardens, which took us over three hours to walk round, are in keeping with this beautiful village, especially the rose garden of Stanton Court and the lily pond of Burland Hall. This was the hottest day so far this year, up to 30C, and therefore we stopped a few miles back towards Cheltenham in the Pheasant Inn at Toddington where a nice pint of Thatchers Gold tasted like cider is supposed to taste!

Burland Hall lily pond

Meanwhile the British and Irish Lions rugby team managed to redeem themselves with a win over a poor Canterbury Crusaders 3-12 then disgraced themselves against the Highlanders in Dunedin losing 23-22 in the final minutes. They picked themselves up again against the Maori All Blacks with a big drubbing in Rotorua 10-32 but they now have a few injuries to contend with and have sent for reinforcements from Wales now touring Samoa and Scotland who are in the process of demolishing Australia. Anything England can do as they say!

This latest call up has attracted criticism from England coach Eddie Jones as well as several prominent old Lions who say that players should be selected on merit and not on Geography. They say that the Lions jersey has been devalued by not selecting on merit. Gatland says that it took his current Lions at least 10 days to get over jet lag and it made sense to call up players who were in closer time zones. Being a Kiwi himself you would have thought Gatland could have thought of this earlier as players could then have been released from England and Ireland in time to acclimatise before the first test. I suppose it depends on wether your prime objective is to win the series and ignore the honour of being selected for the Lions, something most British players would aspire to.

England win series against Argentina

Finally I must mention Englands young lions who took the series in Argentina 2-0 after two thrilling and close games with 11 debutantes but would rather forget the under 20's world rugby championship final in Georgia against New Zealand which we lost 64-17.

The Lions won 6-34 against Waikato Chiefs. Midweek sides from both teams with Chiefs missing six AB's. The real test is on Saturday and I will be watching it over a full English breakfast in the Brewers Arms pub in South Petherton.


And as most of you will know by now the Lions went down to a 30-15 drubbing by a much better side, however, the highlight of the morning, apart from the breakfast itself was when local hero "Bomber" who flew in RAF bombers years ago, entered the pub to everyone saluting him and singing the Dambusters march!

The other highlight was the previous day when the "boys" had a BBQ while the "girls" all went out for lunch. A day of excessive drinking and eating which degenerated to a sing-along to a video of a song originally recorded by "Smokie" called "Living Next Door to Alice" only this one begs the question "who the f--k is Alice" at intervals during the chorus which was enthusiastically sung by all present. For those of you who haven't heard it here is a link. As you can see from the photo (above left) there were some who could not cope with the emotion.

We concluded our Somerset visit at Cannington which was a village I used to live in and the home of Brymore Academy. This was the occasion of their Country Fair and Open Day. My particular interest was that my youngest grandson Henry had recently become a Brymore boy and I was interested to see the school apart from the various events taking place during the day.

Henry was employed in various tasks during the day from showing visitors the various learning activities to helping out in the refreshment tent but he was able to give us a guided tour during his break periods and we were also introduced to some of his teachers. Considering the short time he has been there he seemed to be quite well known by the staff and pupils but I suppose the main reason was that he is in a class of only 19. The facilities at Brymore are exceptional and left me in no doubt that Henry is in receipt of a privileged education at the expense of the State.

There were something like 10 places on offer and 40 applicants so that 30 boys missed out and who is to say were not just as deserving. My daughter tells me that the school does take in boys with a range of abilities including some with behavioral difficulties as they have found that this type of practical education is conducive to learning. Indeed they are in the top 5% of schools in the country for academic achievement.

Blackstone 2.5hp hot bulb engine built 1922

Part of the Country Fair was a display of old stationary engines and the photo above is of an old Blackstone hot bulb engine built in 1922, When I worked for that company during the 1960's and 70's these types of engines were still in production and were sold extensively to Middle Eastern countries to power pumps on oil pipelines. A service engineer once told me they would often have to dig them out from under a pile of sand where they would find them still happily running away!

We came away with some of the school farms vegetables and a leg of lamb. The boys are each given an animal to look after from year 9 so quickly learn the facts of life (and death).

Rudder post at Purton Hulks

The second day of June saw us meeting up with our old Barge mates, the Harris's, at the Lammistide pub near Sharpness for Sunday lunch. They told us about an interesting "ships graveyard" on the banks of the River Severn nearby which we decided to investigate.

It is called Purton Hulks after the nearby village. The Sharpness Canal passes close to the tidal river at this point and there was some concern that spring tides, which have a 10 metre rise and fall, would erode the banks and cause a breach to the canal. Old barges were therefore towed up river and beached, then hauled higher by a tug on the canal. They were then holed and successive tides would deposit mud and the hulks eventually become buried and build up the bank.

The remains of the ships are now fully or partially buried and their names, dimensions, builders and owners recorded on plates on site as well as here.

It has now become a site of special scientific interest as well as a site of particular marine archeological significance.

The Barge "Harriett" was a larger derivative of the Kennet Barge and built for operation in Bristol Docks. It had a GRT of about 80 tons as opposed to the 60 tons of the smaller original. It has been designated as a Scheduled Monument and is the last known survivor of its type.

The resting place of the last Kennet Barge Harriett

Harriett was built by Robbins and Co, which built barges for over 100 years from 1812, near Pewsey on the Kennet and Avon Canal. She was built in 1898, owned by Fred Ashmead and Son of Bristol and was known as a "Honeystreet Barge" from the place she was built. She was beached at Purton in 1950 and, as you can see from the photograph above, the hull outline is still largely intact.

It is with considerable joy that I can report that the Lions managed to beat the All Blacks in the 2nd test at Wellington 21-24. Sonny Bill Williams was given a red card early on for a shoulder charge on Barf boy Anthony Watson for which he has since apologised to Watson and his team but the significance of this win was that the Lions scored two tries whereas all the AB's points came from penalties. All the Lions have to do now is tighten their discipline for the final Auckland test decider.

Captains Kieran Reid and Sam Warburton share the trophy

And they did manage to reduce their penalty count to five while the AB's increased theirs which enabled the Lions to keep in touch despite the AB's two tries. Beauden Barrett forgot his kicking boots whereas Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly didn't miss one. The result was a 15-15 draw and a drawn series, definitely a better result for the Lions than the AB's. The Kiwis were a bit niggled that the French ref changed his offside penalty decision in the last few seconds of the game after consulting the Aussie TMO but sometimes mistakes are made by even the best refs and if it was ruled accidental offside at the other end of the field I am sure the Kiwi's would have accepted it as gratefully as did the Lions.

Sally and Roger in Worthing

Another visit to sunny Worthing and our friends Sally and Les saw us eating lunch at the Squire and Horse once again at Bury with their exceptional steak and kidney puddings. The next day we were picking plums, gooseberries, strawberries, peas and broad beans at Roundstone Farm, paying a visit to Shoreham Lifeboat Station, stocking up on "Real Patisserie's" sourdough bread, quiche and croissants, followed by a fantastic fish and chips lunch at "Into the Blue Restaurant", Shoreham Beach. We also managed some real Italian ice cream from Giuseppes in Worthing on the way back.

Here is a little picture show of a few shots I took of the Shoreham lifeboat. She is a Tamar class boat powered by twin screw Caterpillar engines each of 1,000 bhp @ 2,300 rpm with a maximum speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles.

She has an overall length of 16.3 metres and is capable of self righting with the crew of 7 and 44 survivors on board.

There has been a lifeboat station here since 1865 but the present boathouse was only completed in October 2010 when the present lifeboat was delivered. You can tour all round the boathouse free of charge and even see the lifeboat launched on practice days.

Walk around Sherborne estate water meadows

A further visit to the Sherborne Estate saw us exploring the water meadows around the River Windrush.

It was all fairly uninteresting and we were well insect bitten beside the river which was mainly hidden in undergrowth and mostly well away from the path.

We continued across fields up to Great Rissington which is where my Great Great Grandfather John Pratley was born in 1821 and my Great Grandfather Charles was also born in 1858 who lived there until he married my Great Grandmother in 1878.

Great Rissington had quite a few Pratleys living in the parish but the village is known for the loss of "The Souls Boys" during the Great War. The Cheltenham and Gloucester Graphic reported on 8th June 1918 that "Few parents in England could have had a more grievous blow than Mr and Mrs Souls of Great Rissington".
All five were killed during the Great War and they are remembered in the Church.

The Souls boys - 1 Walter, 2 Albert, 3 Alfred, 4 Athur, 5 Fred.

Albert (Bert) and Walter joined the 2nd Worcestershire regiment and after the Battle of Loos, both transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. Bert was the first to enlist and the first to be killed on 14th March 1916 aged 20.
Fred was killed in action on 19th July 1916 aged 32. His body was never found.
Walter died on 2nd August 1916 aged 24 in a Rouen hospital from a blood clot following an operation.

Fred, Alf and Arthur all enlisted in the 16th Cheshires.
Alf and Arthur were identical twins. Born an hour apart they died five days apart, Alf on 20th April 1918 and Arthur on the 25th both aged 31.

After the war it was said that their mother Annie never stood for the National Anthem again. She received a shilling a week war pension for each son and a letter from Prime Minister Asquith. The brothers are remembered in the church each Remembrance Sunday when their names are read out and the congregation face towards the war memorial.

Lodge Park

Our next visit to the Estate was to Lodge Park. The lodge was built by John Crump Dutton in 1634 to entertain his friends in the "sport" of Deer Coursing. This involved the practice of releasing a deer with a small dog to get it running along a stone wall and then releasing greyhounds to chase it. Spectators bet on dogs to win which were allowed to catch and kill the deer if the wagers were high enough, otherwise the deer was caught to race again.

Dutton's friends could watch the coursing from the grandstand of the lodge, either from the balcony on the first floor or from the flat roof. The first floor is hung with many portraits of the Dutton Family one of whom was the daughter of Thomas Cromwell. It was said that Crump could ride his horse the 20 odd miles over to Cheltenham without leaving the land he owned. After the main house was sold the family moved into the lodge until it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1982.

The Grand Old Lady

The park lands were used for keeping the deer and were designed in 1796 by Charles Bridgeman who was a renowned landscape designer who preceded the likes of Capability Brown. Thousands of trees were planted which no longer survive but one oak tree known as "The Grand Old Lady" has been dated to 1492 which was 300 years old even before Bridgeman started planting.

Our next visit was to Bibury which is nearby and supposed to be one of the most photographed places in Britain. It was in the news recently when one resident had his bright yellow car trashed when parked outside his cottage. Other residents had complained that the bright colour detracted from the appearance of the famous row of medieval cottages known as Arlington Row. The place was buzzing with Japanese tourists. Evidence of Britain's tourist boom after the devaluation of the pound sterling.

The village has two pubs, a trout farm, a post office which sells up market gifts and is very precious. Rack Isle where Arlington Row is located is formed by the old mill race diversion from the River Colne and was so named from the wooden racks used to dry the cloth produced by Arlington Mill. The cottages were those of cloth weavers.

Arlington Row, Bibury

We went to see the latest blockbuster movie Dunkirk. I almost walked out as I became so bored with the repetitive sequences of wartime action. It was a war movie without any real central story line but rather a collection of fictional stories of what "might" have happened during the Battle of Dunkirk in May 1940.

The director, Christopher Nolan, wrote the script and has said he was not depicting a true historical account of the battle but a fictional account of those who took part. You are subjected therefore to what in his imagination it was like. The continuity was dreadful, dodging from one unbelievable story to the other. A collection of luvvie actors, who overacted in general, were interspersed with loud explosions, repetitious dogfights between Messerschmitts and Spitfires plus numerous special effects of ships capsizing and soldiers in full kit miraculously swimming to safety as well as drowning, blown to bits or being burnt to death.

What made the film even more unrealistic were the views of modern buildings, factories and even container cranes in the background of many shots filmed on Dunkerque beach. In this day and age there can be no excuse for not airbrushing out items of a different age.

We spent much time in this area when we lived on Harmonie and visited many of the memorials and war cemeteries of British and French soldiers and civilians who died during this battle. Here is a link to one such true story. There is a true story to be told of immense heroism during the retreat and evacuation at Dunkerque and most of it was carried out on dry land, not at sea or in the air which is the impression you get from this film.

I am aware that I am in the minority of those who have reviewed this film negatively but for me it was a complete waste of time and money.

Coughton Court

Coughton Court in Warwickshire, is the home of the Throckmorton family. The estate was first acquired through marriage in 1409 and the family first came to national prominence when Henry VIII was in the process of trying to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. The Throckmortons being a staunch catholic family naturally opposed the divorce.

Henry's Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, advised Sir George Throckmorton to "stay at home and meddle little with politics". This was advice the Throckmortons seemed to have ignored over the generations as they were first involved in an attempts to assassinate Queen Elizabeth 1st after which Sir Francis Throckmorton was convicted of high treason and executed in July 1584.

Bess Throckmorton, the daughter of Anne Carew and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, was Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. She secretly married Sir Walter Raleigh in 1591 much to the fury of the Queen. They were both sent to the Tower of London.

Coughton Court garden

Then in 1605 Robert Catesby was the ringleader of the Gunpowder Plot. Robert was the son of Anne Catesby (nee Throckmorton) who was Sir George's granddaughter. In fact five of Roberts co-conspirators were all direct descendants from the Throckmortons. Two were shot when the plot was discovered and the rest were hung drawn and quartered for their sins. Guy Fawkes, the fall guy who was supposed to light the fuse, escaped mutilation when he fell from the scaffold on which he was to be executed and broke his neck but we have the pleasure of burning his effigy each year on November 5th.

The Throckmortons handed the key of the manor to the National Trust back in 1947 in exchange for a 300 year lease and their descendants still occupy the North wing. The gardens are a delight and consist of a walled garden and several different formal gardens designed over the years by the family. The house is also interesting and full of photographs and memorabilia of the family.

Coughton Court from the tower

Towards the end of August we were cat sitting again in Stogursey in Somerset but Mrs Pumpkin seemed to have eaten all the local rodents as she did not present us with one, alive or dead.

The weather continued cold for August and we had some quite heavy rain but managed several expeditions.

Our first was to the Halfway House at Pitney, near Langport where we met up with the Hockey's for lunch. We visited this pub once or twice when we lived in the area and it has retained its reputation for good ales and food.

We did a bit of shopping after in Langport which seems to be thriving. The local deli has a good selection of hard goods but does not sell cheese or cold meats however due, the owner informed us, to an EU requirement that requires a sink to be within 3 metres of where the food is served. As the shop has traditional old wooden shop fittings which give it character, it would make it difficult to provide a sink that close so they decided not to sell these deli staples. A shame and I wonder if Brexit might change such daft rules. I suspect not despite the politicians suggesting such red tape can be eliminated.

Dunster Castle
Dunster Castle

Dunster Castle dates from the time of the Norman invasion of 1066. One of Bill the Conk's commanders, William de Mohun, landed from the sea along the Somerset coast to beat up the locals and as a reward was awarded several manors in the area. By 1086 he had built a castle at Dunster.

My wife Sue's maiden name was Monk and her family name can be traced back to William de Mohun. In 1376 descendants of William sold the castle to Lady Elizabeth Luttrell, the leading member of another major Norman family and the last Luttrell sold it to the National Trust in 1976.

Dunster High Street
Dunster Castle

The castle is set on a hill amongst woodland in attractive sub-tropical gardens at the entrance to a River Avril valley running down from Dunkery beacon, the highest hill on Exmoor. The village is a tourist attraction with its old octagonal yarn market in the main street dating from the 17th century and is a relic of the cloth trade when local mills on the river wove cloth.

Dunster Yarn Market
Fly Agaric mushrooms

We patronised the local deli here who told us that the Castle was now open throughout the year and the local shops were now finding it easier to survive the winter.
Our final sojourn was to drive up through Cockercombe to Triscombe Stone then walk up over Wills Neck, the highest Quantock hill.

The adjacent photo is of Fly Agaric mushrooms we found on the side of Wills Neck. It was traditionally used as a fly killer and is poisonous but rarely fatal which is a good thing as hippies used to call them magic mushrooms due to their hallucinogenic properties.

The photograph below is looking down over Taunton Dean from Wills Neck towards Minehead and the Bristol Channel coast.

Taunton Dean from Wills Neck

We finished off this Somerset visit with a trip to South Petherton, taking the opportunity to renew our acquaintance Chris Hockey's mother Brenda who was visiting from Truro. I also managed a few pints in the Brewers of course and collected a few of Josie Lay's delectable eggs whose chooks are proper free range jobs. 'Tis nearly Autumn s'know!

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