A leisurely day

One of the joys of revisiting the Cotswolds (and England in general) is that we are not driven to see, see, see, so today was a relaxed day.  We wandered through Stow after breakfast, visiting the market cross in the square (thanks, Alamy), about which more later,

stopped by St. Edward’s church with its amazing door,  said to have inspired Tolkien’s Doors of Durin,visited the pharmacy for AO’s ear (stopped up due to the plane?), a lovely little shop where we bought socks for various people, and the bookstore, where I bought a walks guide for Northleach and area. 

Then I left AO to her own devices while I took a little walk suggested in the Stow Walks booklet. The first part, through town and then along a rough track through the village of Maugersbury, was very pleasant, with beautiful views of the landscape and Icomb Hill,  said  to  have  been  the  site  of  a neolithic  hill  fort.The next bit was along the the ancient Fosse Way,  but in this section the Fosse Way goes along the A429, a very busy two-lane road.  Luckily there was a sidewalk for pedestrians but still, some of those trucks came barreling down the hill at a great rate.  Then away from the highway and through a cemetery, along the allotments with these beautiful dahlias, and then to a confusing bit. A friendly fellow pedestrian offered help, so I followed her through a little ture or snicket or alley and found myself back in the town. 

Fortified with the delicious baguettes we had bought earlier, we set out for a mild little trip to Northleach, where our friends Peggy and Eddie spend a few weeks every spring.  The church is a classic perpendicular, and inside were several brasses featuring worthies standing on wool sacks,  from  which  local  fortunes  were  made.  You  can  see  that  they  are  protected  by  these  rugs  most  of  the  time.Shades of Angela Thirkell! The chatty woman at the info desk has children in the US and spoke admiringly of our country – except for the frequent random murders, of course…  We also stopped briefly near Sherborne, where P&E rent their National Trust house. Doesn’t it look ghostly with the autumn grasses?  You get there down a long, long one-lane road, luckily with a few turnouts for oncoming traffic. Beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to be driving down there in the dark!

Next on to Burford in search of the garden centre that Peggy touted.  The main street was so congested, and we were not sure of the location, that I finally turned on my phone ($10!!) to get directions.  The centre was a mix of high-end home furnishings and the best garden shop in the world.I picked up some seed packets, and Alison found a darling little bird for her windowsill.

Our final stop was Minster Lovell, a small village along the banks of the Windrush, which we would call a creek or stream rather than a river.  Charming, but nowhere to stop and admire it so we went down the road to the church. Small and nice and obviously hard to maintain, with a shrinking number of congregants and an ancient building in need of maintenance.  But the interior seemed well used and busy. No stained glass, thanks a lot, Henry VIII!

Back towards home, planning to stop at a gas station to top up the air in one of the tires, which causes the car to display exclamation marks.  Unfortunately, even though we got the tire up to 32 psi, the car is still unhappy. Maybe tomorrow. We came back to Stow and the promised roadworks meant we couldn’t take our usual route in, so we ended up in Lower Swell (because once you’re on a road, there’s almost no place to pull over or turn around).  Reversing and retracing our route, we finally found our familiar Sheep Street and home. Driving is always harder at the end of the day. Dinner tonight at The Bell was the best dinner of the trip so far: Lamb for AO, sausages and a rocket salad with pickled shallots for me, both imaginatively cooked. 

Exploring

hailes-abbey-soft-cappingOur first stop today was Hailes Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey that was mostly destroyed in the Dissolution, so all that’s left are some stones, pillars and arches. But when you look at the expanse that the church encompassed, you have a sense of how enormous it must have been. Unlike its sister Cistercian Abbey, Rievaulx, which we visited back in the 90s, so little is left that it’s not imposing, but the audio guide was good at giving a sense of the place. Henry VIII has a lot to answer for, I must say – thousands of monks and nuns displaced, the entire country torn apart…

Speaking of tearing the country apart,

Brexit, deal or no deal concept. United Kingdom and European UniBrexit loomed over this trip and we discussed it with people a couple of times.  At the Abbey, the attendant told us that the EU had changed dramatically from when the UK first joined, now the EU dictated what each country could do. What if, he said, the US, Canada and Mexico were under one government, the American flag was taken down and the seat of government was in Costa Rica?? I have no idea if this is a real scenario, but somehow I think not. But if that’s how some people see it, it makes more sense that after forty years, some of them want to leave.  In any case, Alison encouraged me not to engage the man on the way out, so we escaped.

Meanwhile, all day long – a beautiful, sunny Sunday – we encountered small groups of hikers complete with hiking boots, poles, and rucksacks, walking on one of the trillion footpaths that cover this country. An entirely different culture from ours, for sure.

Lunch was in Snowshill at the local pub across from St. Barnabas Church.St. Barnabas church Most all of the tables were booked for a Sunday roast, but we managed to slip in for sandwiches before everyone arrived. Just as we were leaving, several multi-generational family parties arrived. The English have a sense of ritual – Millennium memorials, Sunday roast, etc. – that we have never had. It may be a bit stuffy but it’s also comforting.

We had two gardens on our agenda, but we could only manage one. Having been to Hidcote 25 years ago, we plumped for Kiftsgate right across the road, and it was wonderful. It’s a family house and garden, and the third generation of the gardening family still lives there.

The house is built at the top of the escarpment, with this gorgeous view over the Cotswolds.Kiftsgate view

This means that you descend from the house down to the lower garden, and then back up again, offering the opportunity for paths, views and various plantings.  Here’s the house at the top.

Kiftsgate houseThis was a very relaxing garden, perhaps because within the spaces defined by stone walls or boxwood, plants twined somewhat wildly with each other. Lots and lots of roses,  like this ‘Trumpeter,’ Trumpeter rosesince this is the home of the famously enormous Kiftsgate rose (past its bloom now), but also at this time of year dahlias, Japanese anemones, asters and various other beauties. Kiftsgate astersKiftsgate dahliasThe water gardens were especially beautiful and imaginative.  Just look at this elegant installation, with its flowers that gently pour into the pool.

and this simple fountain in the midst of a bountiful border.

Here’s a view from the pool at the bottom of the hill back up to the house,

Kiftsgate house viewand I thought of how this house and garden would be wonderful for entertaining. I wonder how the latest generation, who must be about our age, are planning for the future.

We wandered back home on this beautiful day and had dinner at the Kings Arms. They were full up (caution: Sunday is a hard time to find dinner without a reservation) but squeezed us in on the top floor, where several family parties – or maybe just one big one?- were filling up the space. An okay dinner but with lovely views of the square and the church.

This year’s bulbs

For various reasons, I did only a small order this year and it was certainly much less stressful planting fewer bulbs. One order from Brent and Becky:

5 Narcissus ‘Pink Charm’ planted with 5 Tulip ‘Orange Emperor’ per their suggestion

5 Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ – red/white, mid-spring

10 Tulip ‘World Expression’ red/white, good cut flower

5 Tulip ‘Budlight’ yellow lily-flowered, late

Crocus ‘Cream’Beauty’

Crocus tommy ‘Lilac Beauty’

Paper white – 10 ‘Ziva’ and 10 ‘Wintersun’

Oh, and a few species tulips and narcissus that were marked way down at Meadows Farms.  And that’s it!!

 

Driving to the Cotswolds, and a muuurderr??

Murder sceneLeaving Oxford on a bright, clear day, we picked up a little white Golf to carry us to Stow. Our first goal was Blenheim Palace, but Alison got an email from them saying that because of an “incident” they would not be opening until lunchtime.  Since the park was still open, off we set.

The driving was not too bad, despite a few times retracing our steps and breathing heavily.  But now we were told that the palace would not be opening until 2:00 (still no explanation, but you can see the police tape).  After a look around the shop, we picked up a picnic sandwich to eat under a tree before our stroll around the park. 

The park, meanwhile, was updated by Capability Brown in the 18th century and is just as lovely as can be. Passing over the Vanbrugh bridge (so large it contains 30 rooms!), VanBrugh bridgewe came to yet another Harry Potter tree, a cedar which has been propped up to keep it alive by the skin of its teeth.  (This is the one that Severus Snape hung from in Order of the Phoenix, when he was being bullied by Harry’s father.) HP treeYou can see that it is carefully preserved from any rabid fans who might be tempted to try the same.

As we walked along, we got a good glimpse of the Column of Victory, erected in memory of the Duke of Marlborough’s victories at war.   Here is is, charmingly accompanied by a herd of sheep.  victoryFrom here I continued around the Queen’s Lake while Alison went back to the shops. Gorgeous views, magnificent trees, thank you, Capability Brown!Blenheim viewfinest view

At this point we were told that they would not open today at all but did extend our tickets through the 20th if we decided to return.  Still no word on what the “incident” was, but Alison discovered it when we got home.  No, it was not a muuurder, it was a theft! Of a golden toilet (part of an art installation, see more further on)!  As of last fall, its fate was still unknown, though there’s plenty of speculation.

Despite losing the way twice, we made our way to Stow in just a few hours.  Luckily, people are very helpful with directions. But finding the house was a nightmare.  We kept circling around Stow’s High Street, with people close behind us all the way, and finally found Shepherd’s Way.  It is a tiny, narrow passageway that set the car to beeping because it was so tight. No room to park whatsoever! tight quartersSee?? We parked in the next street just beyond, and thanks to friendly neighbors who encouraged us to find our house, we had the strength to pick up our groceries and bags and go back along the narrow alley in search of Carter’s Cottage. 

It turned out to be a delightful little house about midway down on the left, with two tiny terraces smothered in roses, Japanese anemones and honeysuckle.  Carters cottage 1It’s just two up, two down (mostly) but with a really good bathroom and a washer/dryer (mysterious like all British appliances, but we made it work).  Here’s a look at the cottage, which suited us down to the ground. 

We had a glass of wine on the terrace wine on the terraceand then had a delicious dead chicken from Tesco, along with a salad and shortbread for dessert, which we seemed to need.  Looking forward to a real shower, that does not require standing up in a tub or kneeling!

New Year, New Look

booth

I’m not making a resolution, but I am setting a goal: to post here once a week.  This blog is mainly for me (though I know a few souls follow it), and I realized that I rely on it to remind me of trips as well as of planting schemes and results.  That doesn’t work if I post only every few months.  So here, I’ve said it!

Although this is called a garden record, you may have noticed that there are more travel posts than garden posts.  So I’ve expanded the subtitle to reflect that.  The occasional quilt is seen more frequently on Instagram (scroll down for a link to my account), so I won’t post too many here, but they may pop up, especially if I’ve got a lot of images from a show.

You may also notice a new image when you land here. To reflect the actual content, I’ve chosen three photos that should randomly appear.  If I had more skill, I would combine them into one (a goal for another day).

So, with renewed vigor, onward! (And thanks to George Booth and The New Yorker for the image)

Discovering stained glass

Another gloriously sunny day to visit the colleges.  On the way to Christchurch we went in search of University College and its chapel. Although it was closed to visitors, the disappointed old ladies must have moved his heart, because the nice porter let us in anyway.

I had read Jane Brocket’s How to Look at Stained Glass before our trip and made notes on places she mentions, this being one. The 17th century windows include a very fleshy Adam and Eve, Jacob dreaming of the ladder to heaven “while the dreamscape action of angels ascending and descending whirs around him with angels on a grand staircase like an early Astaire/Rogers musical,” says Jane;and this fierce whale threatening Jonah. Very well worth the stop.

Christchurch begins with these gorgeous borders, asters and grasses and sedums and more. Once inside the college, the staircase ceiling is lovely, the dining hall impressive with Alice references in the windows as pointed out by a porter (look closely to see Alice and other characters hiding at the bottom of each window).And here is Alison with Carroll himself! Though I had been here ten years ago, I didn’t remember seeing the cathedral, our  next stop.  We were on the lookout for Burne-Jones’s windows, which did not disappoint. Here is St. Frideswide, patron saint of Oxford, hiding in the pigsty from the rapacious King Algar, here is St. Cecilia being beheaded, here are swirling clusters of grapes above the heads of the saints. After the tour we visited The Picture Gallery, which I found pleasant but underwhelming.

We rested up a bit and ventured out again for the Bodleian tour, which you must book in advance and is highly regulated as to what you can see (and no pictures!). We learned more about Duke Humfrey’s library – the money ran out partway through, which you can see if you look closely at the stonework and notice where the decorations stop, but it’s a beautiful space much seen in film (see yesterday’s entry). Then we walked up and up the stairs to the library itself. No flames allowed and no electric light or heat till the 21st century, so hours were limited. Until a few years ago, scholars placed their book requests through a pneumatic tube system, which meant you waited about three hours before your books arrived at your desk. The system is online now, so much faster. Shelves and shelves of ancient books, some rows turned spines in because of the way the chains were attached, with one chain still extant to show visitors.  And notice the ceiling!Another HP filming site, of course. A short tour but very interesting.

From here we went across to the new Weston Library building, renovated at great expense several years ago, now featuring a vast open expanse with views of the stacks on the floor above (reminiscent of the Library of Virginia building).  Then another visit to Blackwell’s, which is even more wonderful than you can imagine. I came away with Clare Tomalin’s bio of Dickens (the biography project) and a Mick Herron set in Oxford. Yum!

Tonight we had dinner at a Thai place on the High Street, which was a delicious change from the pub food we’ve had so far. Vegetables! And so to bed.

 

Walking and looking

I was looking forward to the Ashmolean, which had been closed for renovations on my last visit ten years ago. But first, a quick detour to Rewley House, where I had studied Darwin with Emma Townshend for a week in 2009 at an Oxford Continuing Education course.

The Ashmolean originated with Mr. Ashmole and his collection, augmented by those of the Tradescant family (thanks for the flowers). Alison and I visited the Italian galleries together so that we could see the Uccello nighttime painting, then parted ways for an hour to indulge our own special interests. Highlights  for me included the robes T E. Lawrence wore in Arabia; the Powhatan Mantle, made as a ceremonial piece by Algonquian Indians in the Chesapeake Bay in the 16th century and possibly presented by Powhatan to Captain Newport for King James I; and the Islamic galleries with gorgeous tiles.We also made a quick visit to the Alfred Jewel, which I know from Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, and whose purpose is still a bit of a mystery.

Lunch was at the Lamb & Flag instead of the Eagle and Child (too touristy), and we had a half pint (me) and prawn sandwiches (both of us). Restored, we walked along the Lamb and Flag passage to Parks Road and the Natural History Museum. We made our way directly to the dodo, which is well placed toward the entrance, and wandered along the galleries, appreciating the scale and space of the secular  cathedral.Then we walked through to the Pitt Rivers Museum, the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford in England, and the equal of the Mercer Museum in Doylestown when it comes to collecting lots of things and putting them on display.  Imagine  that each one of these cabinets contains a zillion objects,  each  linked  by  its use.Capes made from seal intestines; barkcloth on the bolt  from  Captain  Cook’s  voyages;meticulously hand-written tags;
a German Noah’s ark;
and zillions of other items, all arranged by use rather than by origin. Fascinating and overwhelming. We did particularly enjoy the items from Cook’s voyages, which are to be found, in a very Pitt-Rivers way, by taking the elevator up to the Lower Level.

Walking back to our hotel, we passed by Wadham College and took a few pictures of the beautifully green lawn and the quad. After a restorative lie-down, we met our guide at Trinity for an Oxford Walking Tour. We were the only participants, which we liked though I think our guide was disappointed. It turns out that he is the same guide I had ten years ago! After a look at the Sheldonian, he took us down the street to New College, where we saw the dining hall,

the gorgeous gardens (need to return for a closer look), and the mysterious 16th century Mound,which is just for fun as far as I can tell,then went into the Chapel. He pointed out the sculpture of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein, the beautiful carved stone reredos,

and the holm oak in the cloister (in which Draco Malfoy was turned into a ferret!).

On to the Bodleian, which we will see more of tomorrow. The statue of Duke Humphrey has quite a story attached, of which I remember mainly that he did not want to get married, so Shakespeare wrote some sonnets to persuade him (it didn’t work). We left Simon soon after, a knowledgeable guide though he name-dropped mercilessly and kept wiping his mustache in an off-putting way.

By now we were knackered, so we made our way back home (fortunately only five minutes walk) and crawled up the steep stairs to our lair overlooking the New College bell tower. A good day, even if it wore us out!

England again!

This year’s trip was a mix of the familiar – Oxford (which I visited ten years ago) and the Cotswolds (we both visited here with Alison’s mother and aunt in the early ’90s) – and the new –  Ely, just outside Cambridge, featuring the fens and the Norfolk Broads.

After arriving in Oxford by bus from Heathrow, we dropped our bags at the Bath Place Hotel, Bath Place Hotelthen walked back down Broad Street to Blackwell’s, as much of a rabbit warren as ever and with so many books we both wanted to buy (only two for me, I was very proud of my restraint).  Lunch at the Turl Street Kitchen hit the spot, two orange-yolked eggs over English muffins, then back to the Bath to check in and take a two-hour jet-lag nap.

The hotel is a 17th century muddle of little buildings with our room on the top floor above steep, twisty stairs.  Bath Place stairsIt has an interesting history, with Dorothy Sayers among the famous residents.  Bath PlaceOur room is tiny but charming, with a view of New College from the window.  New College towerThe bathroom was quintessentially British:  a tub with a shower spray, which meant you either knelt in the tub to wash your hair (hard on the knees), stood up and sprayed your hair and all the surroundings, or knelt on the floor and leaned into the tub.  None was entirely satisfactory (shades of our Paris apartment!), but for three days we could manage.

Awakening restored and refreshed, we walked down Turl Street to the Oxford Wine Shop, a lovely place, then to a few high-end shops selling historic maps and prints and beautiful old jewels. On the way back, we came to the Radcliffe Camera in the late afternoon sunshine. Radcliffe CameraDinner tonight was literally around the corner at the renowned Turf Tavern, where we had steak and ale pies and french fries that made us both very happy. We admired the hanging baskets of flowers and the late sun on the New College bell tower. Turf tavernAnd so to bed.

Walking in Granada

albaicinThere is so much to see, and we have so little fluency in Spanish, that we have booked lots of tours on this trip.  Too many? Time will tell. Today we started off with a walking tour of the lower Albaicin (another World Heritage Site on the list!) and the old city with Senna, a delightful young Belgian with impeccable English and what sounded to me like a perfect Spanish accent.  He began by explaining the history of the Muslims in Spain and pointed out that, as I have discovered, if you are a progressive you tend to think that the three religions coexisted happily, and if you’re a conservative, not. He led us up steep streets lined with shops just like in Morocco, offering leather, textiles, jewelry, etc.  We stopped at the top of a hill at a Catholic church run by the Clare Sisters, who pray unceasingly. And indeed we saw a white-clad figure, immovable in front of the altar, and a similar figure took her place as we watched.

 

Everywhere we went we saw pomegranates, the symbol of Granada. 

Narrow streets, some made narrower because people had been allowed to extend their houses into the streets as long as they left room for a man and a donkey to pass. And when the Muslims were expelled, Christians took over their houses and turned them into spacious buildings with gardens and vineyards. We ended this part of the tour at an overlook where we could see the Alhambra and the white palace.

Walking back down the hill, we came to Plaza Nueva and admired the Christian church with Muslim elements (notice the tiles and the arched windows). Down the street we came upon a massive monument to Isabella and Columbus (they are buried in Granada), then we turned down a side street to the souk, reconstructed after a nineteenth century fire, thanks to the romantic admiration for the Muslim era (due in part to Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra).

We wended our way through the narrow streets to the cathedral, a Gothic presence in the midst of everything else.  Off to one side is a building used by the University of Granada, that has preserved a room of the original 14th century madrassa, complete with mihrab.  This was, again, just like Morocco.  I couldn’t resist several photos.

As we walked back towards the cathedral, we noticed this wall with someone’s name partly obscured by red paint.  Senna lowered his voice in deference to the many church people who might be passing by (we were opposite the archbishop’s palace) and explained that this was the name of a noted Fascist active during the Civil War, honored by the church but to this day abhorred by many.

We left Senna here and walked back to the Plaza Nueva for a pizza lunch and a brief rest before our afternoon tour of the cathedral and chapel. Our guide for just the two of us was Violetta, whose English was wonderful though sometimes oddly pronounced (as is my Spanish, I’m sure).  More about the tour here.

Dinner tonight was at La Fontana, a tapas place just around the corner from our hotel, facing the Rio Darro.  We are still tapas novices, as evidenced by our behavior: we ordered wine and a hummus tapa to start and were surprised to see two little containers of couscous arrive.  We tried to take it back only to learn that this was the tapa libre! Lo siento!! It was delicious, as was the hummus we ordered. All the tapas here were so good that, even though the waitrons as aways do not like to deliver the bill, to Alison’s frustration, we vowed to return tomorrow.

The train that’s a bus

Sometimes, it’s all about the transportation.  We went to the Atocha train station to leave Madrid for Granada, the first leg by train and the second by bus.  The first part was easy, assigned seats, a quiet train, and an arid, bleak landscape passing by. We dutifully got off at Antequera to catch the bus to Granada, but were stopped by the train people.  They explained that for some reason we didn’t catch we would have to get back on the train, go to Malaga, about twenty minutes on, and get the bus to Granada there. We were to look out for them at the head of the train in Malaga.

Well, they were strolling along the platform without us when we arrived and raced to catch up.  The man said, “follow the chicas” and we zipped along behind a young couple and a young woman, in and out, over streets, through buildings until we came to the bus station.  Bought our tickets and eventually boarded a comfortable bus for the 90 minute trip to Granada.

But our adventures were not yet over, because the cab we took ripped us off.  He sped off to our hotel, then deliberately confused Alison about the change he owed her.  With any luck, he will come to a bad end! I’m glad to say that this was the only bad incident we had in two weeks.

We trundled up the cobbled pedestrian street to our hotel, Casa del Capitel Nazari, described on their website as “an ancient Renaissance palace built in 1503 and located in the picturesque area of the Albaicin, in front of the Alhambra in Granada and in the city centre, close to the cathedral. It is a palace with lintels and Tuscan columns, Corinth capitals, Arabic chromium-plated beams; Renaissance decorated wooden ceiling and two Roman columns.”  All true, and was very reminiscent of Morocco:  little courtyards, wooden ceilings, tiled floors, and all. We have a large room with a mini-kitchen and a dining room table, very comfortable.  We walked down to the Plaza Nueva, a busy square with several restaurants, and had a strange dinner, large platters of fried spaghetti sprinkled with a few shrimps, and lots of pork and potatoes. And so to bed.