Thursday, April 01, 2010

April fool

(White rabbits!)

Yes, you may have thought all our adventures would be in London, but there you would be wrong, O Best Beloved.

For on the 1st of April we rented a cute little Vauxhall economy car and began some adventures in driving into the countryside.

Behold the scenic M40. (OK, UK residents, you can stop snickering now.)

Captain Midnight's job was to remember where the gearshift was, and my job was to puzzle out the directions and to holler out "Left side!" on a frequent basis. (To his credit, CM only really forgot once.)

We arrived at our destination in the Cotswolds only a few hours late, primarily due to some unpleasantness on the M40.

There, at long last, we met Gretel up close and in person, and there was much rejoicing. I proceeded to talk the ears off my poor victim while Captain Midnight sat discreetly rolling his eyes (he is used to my shenanigans by now). But Gretel took it well and did not throw us out of her house. Perhaps it was because we came bearing chocolate.

In any case, after Gretel packed up a picnic lunch, and after nipping out and around the corner to the deli to inquire after some cheese, we went out exploring. It's just this edge of springtime in the Cotswolds, which means there's a great deal of green with a general peppering of daffodils, but the trees aren't yet ready to participate. It's some of the loveliest country I've ever seen, sunshine or rain.

We went first to Colne St Dennis, which you may recognize if you've been to Gretel's blog.

By this time the sun, which had been playing hide and seek with the clouds all day, had decided to be sulky.

There was a lovely little Easter display just inside the inner door...

...with a wonderful, well-weathered pipe organ in the back, just to one side.

The walls were quite thick, giving the whole church the sensation of feeling colder inside than outside. And Gretel is absolutely right about the scent of one of these old churches within: damp Cotswold stone coupled with aged wood.

Some more architectural details.

This was a memorial within the church for someone named Joan or Joanne (inscribed "Ioahne") Burton, died September 22, 1631.

Steps up to what we assumed to be the belfry tower (we did not enter to check).

Needlepointed cushions for tired knees on cold mornings.

Look at the different shapes of the two arches. The original building is some 850 years old. (As an American, that's hard for me to wrap my brain around.)

Then we went outside and got a look at the churchyard.

Gravestones galore.

Clearly this lady didn't want anyone stepping across her grave.

Over the years the mosses and lichens and so forth have worked their way beneath the metal letters of this stone, twisting them out of shape.

Twisty rootses.

The "north door" of this church has been blocked off, if indeed it was ever in use in the first place. Gretel indicated that north doors of churches were considered unlucky. So, true to form, I looked it up:
In most churches the main entrance door and porch are located on the south side of the church with opposite it a north door, which in most instances now has been filled in. Occasionally the main door may be on the north side. If this is the case then the village centre probably also lies in that direction. In medieval times the churchyard was a gathering place for market sports, fairs and socialising; all of which normally took place on the north side.

The south side was reserved for burials. Its is assumed that the north door was used as an exit point for the processions which were a great feature of Sundays and feast days before the reformation. However there is also a legend that says that when the congregation entered the church through the south door they dipped their fingers into the holy water stoup and that by crossing themselves the devil was expelled. As the devil could not go out over their shoulders, a north door was included for his retreat. Thus sometime the North door is known as the Devils door.

Interesting, no?

We then proceeded to the church at Coln Rogers, which you may recognize if you've been to Gretel's other blog. The previous church was Norman, but this one, St. Andrew, is even older -- it dates back to Saxon times.

The "new" outer door...

...and the mighty lock of the inner door.

A sizable loft organ in the rear. (Can you spot the reflection of Captain Midnight taking the picture?)

Back of the church. Note the lack of marmalade for sale today, more's the pity.

Chancel and altar of the church.

Architectural details.

One of the front pews in this church doubled as the parish chest.

It was also well-situated right next to the fireplace. Whoever sat near here was probably quite comfortable.

The roof looked a bit like the inside of a barrel. I'm sure there is a proper term for this type of construction, but I don't know what it is.

The unlucky "north door," both inside...

...and out.

It's the window! The Saxon window! And to its right is a pilaster strip.
The bell tower. The flyer we found inside the church indicates there are three bells in this tower, of varying provenance.

The churchyard. Captain Midnight calls the tombstone on the far left "Just Five More Minutes."

The graves are in various states of repair.

We then moved on to Northleach for a much-needed bathroom break.

While there, Captain Midnight spied the bell tower of a church between buildings and suggested we investigate further.

This turned out to be The Church of St Peter and St Paul, also known as "The Cathedral of the Cotswolds" for its size and general magnificence. It was a "wool church" -- that is, it was built up to its current size with money donated by wealthy wool merchants -- and it dates from the early 12th century. (It was built on the site of an earlier building, which was probably also a church.)

We were keen to go inside and take a closer look, but being late in the afternoon on Maundy Thursday the doors were locked in preparation for services later that evening. So we had to be content with walking around and snapping pictures of numerous architectural details.

And there were numerous details begging to have their pictures taken, as you can see.

Some details were in better shape than others.

Yes, Captain Midnight somehow managed to snap a photo of us. AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE. (At least for now.)

Leaving Northleach to wander again, we found and tromped up a Roman road... see an absolutely beautiful, if rather soggy, Cotswold vista.

In fact we were so much into what we were doing that a) we forgot all about the picnic and b) we got a bit lost. Eventually, though, we sussed it out and headed back toward Gretel's village. While she went to inquire after cheese, CM and I returned to the cottage.

There we found that in our absence the cats had taken control of the place. They sent out a spokescat to negotiate a settlement (tuna was high on their list of demands). But we, with our wily opposable thumbs, outsmarted them and regained control of the cottage before Gretel hove in sight, triumphantly bearing a Cerney Pyramid.

(Image used with kind permission from The CheeseWorks, Cheltenham)
Then we had a feast. Homemade whole-wheat bread and numerous local cheeses and crackers and biscuits and peppermint tea and (if you are Gretel or CM) hard-boiled eggs, plus other bits I am probably forgetting (because, in CM's dad's words, "I've slept since then"), plus a sausage-and-bean casserole that was to die for, and at the risk of being disloyal to the memory of my great-grandmother, a slice of The Best Fruitcake Ever. (I don't care if you think fruitcake is only the punchline to a joke. I don't care if you think you don't like fruitcake. You've never had THIS fruitcake. I think I will dream of it when I get home.) At some point Andy arrived from work, received a bowl and joined in the festivities. Gretel opened a packet of goodies from the gracious and delightful Tara, commemorated as an Absent Friend. She appeared to be very pleased with the contents.

We sat about gabbing, kicked out the cats one by one to show them one does not attempt a hostile takeover without repercussions, received a full tour of the cottage and generally enjoyed ourselves. So much so, in fact, that we stayed far past what we'd previously determined would be our drop-dead time to return to the homestay. At long last we made our goodbyes and wandered away into the darkness, with only the echoing sound of "Left! AAaahh! Stay LEFT!" to indicate our passing.

All in all, far better than expected. Thank you for having us, Gretel and Andy.

N.B. The cats were, in fact, very well-behaved and any talk of insurrection on their part was probably exaggerated. At least as far as you know.


Scarehaircare said...

No, no, NO! You do NOT dream of abscond with the recipe (and the one for the bean-n-sausage concoction) and hie to BFF Carrie's house where she will recreate said gastonomic delights while you and CM ply her with wonderful stories and pictures to the point of tears.

PG said...

LOL, I'm glad it was better than expected! It was my pleasure to have you both, and if it is any consolation the weather has not been much better since. I will email you your pics this w/end, the ones of you on Akerman street are really nice (if a bit grey and gloomy!) Enjoy the rest of your hols and Dr Who. :)

tlc illustration said...

*sigh*... sounds like a lovely day. Looking *very* much forward to pictures!