Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Cotswolds

It's a weekend away in the car without a plane trip involved - just for a change. A 2 hour drive SW from Luton towards the Welsh border brings us down into the very picturesque area of the Cotswolds.  Rolling green hills with quaint little villages dotted all around us and the first of the spring daffodils appearing in the paddocks. We stayed at the Four Pillars Water Park at South Cerney, set on acres of lakes and open countryside. The weather had been typically English, grey skies and rain so the walks around the lakes were muddy and mushy, but still nice to get out and walk amongst the daffies.

                           The Four Pillars Water Park Hotel - looking from the far side of the lake

Making the most of some dry hours, we headed off to visit our first Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water. Voted as one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds with the River Windrush meandering through the heart of town, the water is abundant with birds and ducks - all hopeful of being fed by the many tourists around. The trees lining the banks were just starting to break out in flower after their dormant winter and made a very picturesque setting. There are numerous stone bridges crisscrossing the river, making the village known as the Venice of the Cotswold.

                                                            Bourton - on - the - Water

                                                  Just the start of the spring blossoms.

                               The River Windrush running right through the middle of town.

Next morning we headed closer to the Welsh border down to the Forest of Dean and into the little town of Cinderford where my great grand mother grew up. I was trying to chase more information on the family and locate the house - St. Annals. All I had was the memory of a photo with the family all seated on the front steps of the home, and the knowledge that it was now owned by the local council and used as an Information Centre. I also knew the Brain family had owned 2 coal and 1 iron mine and were very influential people in the town. We located the house very easily, a grand stately home, 3 levels and in very good condition. It was next door to the Methodist church, which the family had also owned at the time. As luck would have it, inside the council were holding an open day on the history of the area and original residents. On mentioning my relationship to the  'Brain' family, all sorts of people came forward with information and were happy to chat about the knowledge they had. We heard how Trafalgar mine was the first ever to use electric power, and the first game of floodlit football was played at the colliery. Then the story of how the family used the church next door as very comfortable stables for their horses. Eventually when they moved from the area, the Methodist church purchased the premises back and the council acquired the family home. A couple of hours later, with pages of historical notes and photos, and heads spinning with information, we were taken on a tour of the village and the remnants of the once great Trafalgar Colliery. It was a great day of discovery.

St. Annals - Home of the Brain family

The church next door which were the stables

Standing stones - all that is left of Trafalgar Colliery

Our second day was to discover more of the local area and we started with a walk from Lower to Upper Slaughter. Awful names for such picturesque towns, but it has something to do with the old English name for muddy place - nothing sinister. The River Windrush also runs through the two villages and a winding lane just under a mile long joins them. The cottages along the way are all built of Cotswold stone, some of their foundations actually in the water.

                                A stately English home but imaging trimming those hedges !!

                               A pretty scene along our walk between Upper & Lower Slaughter

Cottages made from Cotswold stone

We spent the rest of the day going from one village to the next - Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford and Bilbury, all so quintessentially English with their cottage gardens of jonquils and daffodils, and some with thatched roofs. Life seems to move at a slower pace in this small corner of the world.

Our last morning was spent with a visit to Broadway Tower, an 18th century tower build mainly for decoration than purpose. It is 65 feet high with a spiral staircase from ground to the top, giving spectacular views stretching across to the Welsh mountains. Because of its great vantage point, it was used in the wars by the Royal Observers Corp to track enemy planes over England. By now the weather had reverted to the usual English cold, damp, windy conditions so it was time to get back into the warmth of the car and head for home. A wonderful couple of days in a beautiful part of the UK.

                                                                  Broadway Castle

                                    Looking west over into Wales and trying to look warm !!

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