May 2020 in the Cotswolds


We have reached the month of May and although the country is still officially in ‘lockdown’, we are starting to see the return of visitors to our glorious region. There are more cars on the roads and plenty of people walking around, all trying to stay two metres apart!

May is, arguably, the best month of the year in our area of the country. It is often sunny, with a clear freshness in the air and the trees and flowers in full bloom.

May has traditionally been a time to take part in ancient rituals, hoping that by doing so, country folk will ensure a good crop in Autumn.

One tradition that is well known is ‘Maypole dancing’ and you will, to this day, find Maypoles in some Cotswold villages. On Mayday, the maidens in the villages (unmarried young women), would dress in white and dance intricate reels, holding onto coloured ribbons whilst forming a vivid splash of colour on the pole itself. The tradition continues to this day, with the ‘maidens’ usually being supplied by the local village school. The origins of this strange ritual are lost in the mists of time but as it is essentially a fertility rite, it doesn’t take too much imagination, for adults at least, to work out what the Maypole represents!

The City of Oxford missed out on one of its May-Day traditions this year, due to the Covid restrictions, but in happier times, you can join revellers at 6.00 a.m. on May Day morning outside Magdalen College. Locals know that the institution’s name is pronounced ‘Maudlin’ and it is one of Oxford’s older colleges, founded in 1458, with alumni including C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde and A.C. Grayling. If you are lucky enough to be able to join in, you will hear the chapel choir singing Madrigals from the top of the college’s tower, while Morris Dancers perform their traditional jigs in the streets below. Oxford is, of course, a university town, so the celebration is completed with plenty of early-morning drinking!

May also sees the beginning, in earnest, of the Cricket season. This mysterious game (to foreign guests at least) in one of the staples of the English countryside. First referenced in writing in 1597, its origins are obscure but it played a central role in country life throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries, as it was a sport where the upper classes and the working classes often joined together. Manor houses would have their own cricket pitches and rivalry between villages was intense.

There are 11 players per team, with each team having a go at ‘batting’ and ‘fielding’. The team with the most ‘runs’ at the end wins. This simple explanation is, I’m afraid, all that I can give you in such a short article but should you come and visit, the structure of the game can be explained by watching a game with an Englishman in around half an hour. You will then, sadly, need the best part of a life-time to understand the subtleties of the game. Suffice to say that should you be lucky enough to be here during a weekend in May, you will still be able to see two teams, both dressed in white, smacking a hard leather ball around with flat pieces of willow. Nothing is more English than that and the village cricket field in Stanton is a great place to watch from!

So now it’s back to ‘Lockdown Lite’ and, as I stroll through Bourton on the Water there are, once again, people! We still have quite a way to go before we can truly say things are ‘back to normal’, but as we draw to the end of May it’s fair to say that at last, there is some excitement in the air!

Here are a few clips we captured whilst out and about in May https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v49O9qJzEfw

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April in the Cotswolds


As the nights begin to lengthen and the darkness of a Northern hemisphere winter starts to fade into the distance, the Cotswolds is certainly one of the best places to be in the whole of our beautiful country.

The month of April brings with it renewal in all sorts of ways. As the churches celebrate Easter, houses across the region are ‘Spring Cleaning’, an old tradition where the cobwebs and dust of interior living are swept away, windows are opened to the fresh Spring air and sulky children are gently encouraged to wield mops and dusters, in a family quest to resurrect their beautiful homes. The farms too are busy with spring lambs frolicking in the fields, milking cows finally released from their winter barns and the fresh shoots of the wheat-fields begin to climb with purpose towards the light.

This year, of course, things have been different. The pandemic has extended the people’s time in their homes and prevented the annual Spring Bank Holiday from taking its usual form. The English love their Bank Holidays and the ones in Spring mean Cotswold villages are full of life with picnics on gorgeous village greens, pints of ale at sleepy pub tables and a chance to visit one or two of the many beautiful stately homes and gardens in the region.

The frustration this year is palpable. Friends can’t visit and whilst the sun shines, we are restricted to one hour of exercise a day. Yet here, in the midst of a world-wide emergency, residents of this beautiful area can count their lucky stars. Not for us a small flat (or apartment), surrounded by city concrete or the noise, smells and traffic of the urban environment. Even if we live in a village or town, the stunning countryside is never more than a few minutes away, so whilst the city folk struggle to find fresh air and a place to find greenery, we happy few are surrounded by fields of Canola, flowering in vivid splashes of yellow amongst the spectacular range of greens that cover our gently rolling hills. We can walk through leafy glades as the ancient woodland bursts once more into life and the absence of traffic, due to the ‘lockdown’, brings with it the musical exhilaration of the birds singing as they eagerly seek out a mate.

The kitchens in our houses are also busy at this time of year, with the sunlight bringing out the baker in all of us. Top of the list, of course, are ‘Hot Cross Buns’ which no house can be without on Good Friday. These delicious spiced fruit buns are a long-standing tradition dating back definitely to 1733 and possibly to the city of St Albans in 1361. They mark the end of the austere season of ‘Lent’, with the spices representing the materials used to embalm Christ and the cross on top signifying the crucifixion. If you are lucky enough to be here in April, they are a treat that should not be missed under any circumstances.

There is, of course, one crucial aspect of the Cotswolds missing this year which is, of course, the tourists. Whilst, for some, the peace and quiet is a delight, there is a real sense that something important is missing. One could describe it as akin to owning a Matisse, a Van Gogh or a Michaelangelo which you keep tucked away and don’t allow anyone else to see. There is joy for you when you see it, but there is also joy in seeing the reaction of others to a thing of beauty. We draw energy and vibrancy from our visitors and love to see their joy as they experience our beautiful region. This too is something missing in these strange times so, as April of 2020 comes to a close, we have lots to be thankful for, but when the time is right, we look forward to opening our roads, our hotels, our gardens and the whole Cotswold region and welcoming once again visitors from around the world.

Here are a few clips we captured whilst on the farm and our local area during April. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD8-1sV2o5o

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Chastleton House


Standing tall in the tiny village of Chastleton is ‘Chastleton House’, one of the best-preserved Jacobean Manor houses in the country.

The property is now owned by the National Trust and can be visited during the Summer months.

English manor houses, however insignificant and unknown they may be, do tend to have links to important episodes in English history and Chastleton is no exception.

The house was originally owned by William Catesby whose son, Robert, was the leader of the infamous ‘Gunpowder Plot’. Some have said that the plot itself was planned in the house, which is of course nonsense, as the foundations for the current building were laid in 1607, two years after the plot failed. An Oxford lawyer, one Walter Jones, purchased the old house and estate from Catesby in 1604 and spent five years building the house we see now.

The Jones family were responsible, however, for an intriguing event during the English civil war. In 1651, after the Battle of Worcester, Arthur Jones, grandson of Walter, escaped to Chastleton after the Royalist defeat. Roundhead soldiers arrived to search for him whereupon his wife Sarah drugged them with Laudanum, allowing Arthur to escape! As a result of their support of the king, the family were bankrupted which was bad for them, but very good for us. Due to their lack of funds, the family could not afford to change the interior of the building which is why today, it is such a significant historic relic of the early 17th Century.

There is one more thing for which Chastleton is famous. Should you ever play Croquet, you will find yourself using the rules devised for play at Chastleton. When Croquet first appeared as a game in the 1800s, there were no set rules, which caused problems for the aristocracy, as there was no defined way to play the game.

In 1865, however, ‘The Field’ magazine published Walter Whitmore-Jones rules from Chastleton, which became the world-wide standard. Just another example of the long and fascinating history of this most beautiful parts of the country!

Here are a few clips we captured of the exterior of the house https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD8-1sV2o5o

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