A small taste of the Cotswalds

Sunday 20 May 2018 – Cotswalds, Gloucestershire.

How do they fit all this countryside in? This is something I ponder (and wonder at) every time I leave the city and explore somewhere new.

Why is it all stunning? often follows immediately after that first thought. This is now my favourite part of the country, being the final thought in that head conversation.

The UK has a population of about 65 million. It is roughly the same size as New Zealand, which has a population of 4.5 million. Where are all the people in the UK?

Admittedly almost 9 million live in London alone, but that leaves a heck of a lot to fit in somewhere else. I cannot believe the country has so much rural and open space. I am not complaining one little bit.

My daughter, Meliesha, recently took a nannying job in Stonehouse, a small, unremarkable place on the fringe of the Cotswalds town of Stroud, about 3 ½ hours by car from home.

El and I were invited up to stay with her and her host family for the weekend.

We arrived in time for Saturday lunch. After meeting the family, Meliesha, El and I got back in the car and Meliesha showed us around some of the nearby places. Stonehouse itself is not that great, a commuter town, three crap pubs, no coffee shop, and probably voted for Brexit. It is that sort of place. But wowsers; all around is loveliness. Out first stop was the gorgeous village of Painswick.

Painswick made its money as a wool town, and was obviously once a very wealthy place, and probably still is. It is an absolutely gorgeous village, the epitome of English villageness.

It was remarkably quiet when we arrived, with very few cars passing through and very few people on the streets. This made it even nicer, in my eyes. The buildings are primarily made from local stone and are similar in style and colour. It is all very attractive, and I immediately fell in love with the place.

We passed through the churchyard with its sculptured yew trees. I could quite easily have spent 30 minutes there alone with my camera.

Meliesha has been to Painswick Beacon with a local walking friend she has made. Leaving the village, we started up a small section of the Cotswalds Way long distance walk.

The walk begins with a loose collection of interlinked foot and bike trails through a tiny section of ancient forest. Tall unpollarded beech trees tower above and shade the last of the spring bluebells and the abundant ferns. It is quite lovely.

The forest runs along the edge of a golf course that slowly rises up towards the beacon. On its edge lies one of the quarries where stone is carved from the hillside for the building trade.

One of many, many things I love about the British countryside, and a point of difference with New Zealand, is stone walls.  Though they are very difficult to take an interesting photo of.

The top of the hill is a popular place. As part of the Cotswalds Way, walking groups pass by and there was a large group of school kids monopolising the beacon when we arrived. The view from the top was far-reaching in all directions.

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We did not stay long on the top. Too many people and a cold pint beckoned.

On the way back down through the forest I experimented further with some intentional camera movement photography, working on a technique to produce impressionist painting-style images without relying on post-production techniques.

Meliesha had another village to take us to, this time with a pub, rather than a walk. So off to Amberley Village we went. I cannot remember the name of the pub we went to, but I do remember that the three drinks I bought cost less than two in London, and that there was a nice view. A brief walk from where we parked the car took us past fields full of daisies and buttercups. I remember that parks and verges used to be covered in these flowers, but we see so few in the city these days. Is this a false memory?

This mini library in a phone box is brilliant, one book out and one book in. A large version of the little libraries on the streets of Walthamstow.

Our final stop for the day was for an early dinner at the Stroud Brewery and its really nice pizzeria. Sadly being the driver, I could only have a single drink. Nice beer, great pizza and a really nice family vibe, I would definitely be a regular if I lived here!

Meliesha was babysitting that night so El and I went for a walk to one of the local pubs. We didn’t stay beyond a hastily consumed single drink. Not our sort of pub.

It had been recommended to us to walk up to the top of a nearby hill. Meliesha comes here often to watch the sunset.

There is a magnificent oak at the top of a wild flower filled field, though we didn’t get to see the sunset. Sitting down turned us into midge magnets and we were soon swarmed with flying, biting things.

The following morning, after breakfast with the family, Meliesha took us on one of her regular walks round the neighbourhood. Stonehouse sits on one of the canals that were used to transport goods from the mills that abound in the valleys, providing the source of wealth that created these now lovely old villages.

Like the tow paths of the canal system through London, there were numerous runners, cyclists and walkers making the most of this lovely late spring morning. What a lovely place to take some exercise. One day I would love to take a long bike ride along these paths.

Too soon, it was back to Mel’s place and then El and I were in the car for the 3 ½ drive back home. A lovely weekend away, and a place we would like to come back to and explore more.

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