There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Moreton-in-Marsh, Chastleton and Adlestrop

Lynne and I were married on this day in 1975.

It has taken us 40 years to get from this…

Wedding Day, July 1975
To this…
Us in 2015
Is it time we talked about the elephant in the room? It seems to be creeping up on us.

This year our annual wedding anniversary glimpse into the world of fine dining took us south into the Cotswolds.

We stopped for a light lunch at a cold and rainy Moreton-in-Marsh. The town was called Moreton-in-the-Marsh until 1930 when the ‘the’ was unaccountably removed - though even locals often re-insert it in conversation to make it easier to say. With or without its article, the name suggests a grim sort of place but, of course, it is not.  It is a typical Cotswold small town, built entirely of the local stone which is routinely (and a little tediously) described as ‘honey-coloured’ and ‘mellow’; there is even a house called 'Mellow Stone Cottage'.

Curfew Tower, Moreton-in-Marsh
It is full of square Georgian buildings occupied by banks, younger and older buildings (it is not always easy to tell) housing antique shops, cutesy tea houses, artisan butchers, serious cheese shops and solid-looking, dependable pubs, the sort that have been there for years and are not likely to close down any time soon.
Tea House, Moreton-in-Marsh

We had a half pint of Hobgoblin Gold and shared a ham baguette in one such pub, the Redesdale Arms, built in 1650 of ‘mellow Cotswold Stone’ (I quote their website).
The Redesdale Arms, Moreton-in-Marsh

The 2nd Baron Redesdale, of Redesdale in the County of Northumberland, forsook the frozen north for the gentler climes of the Cotswolds where he brought up his son and six daughters. Each of the daughters achieved a measure of fame, eminence or notoriety under the family name of Mitford. The Mitford sisters are all dead now. Diana, the last of them, died in 2014 and was the only one who did what the daughters of aristocrats are supposed to - marry another aristocrat. As the Duchess of Devonshire she lived at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire (where else?).

Just far enough away to be buried in the Cotswolds countryside is Chastleton House. Walter Jones came from a family of prosperous Welsh wool merchants but made his pile in the law. In 1604 he bought the Chastelton estate from Robert Catesby, shortly to become the leading conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot, demolished Catesby’s house and built the present Chastelton House. Walter Jones had every hope that he, or his descendants, would become at least baronets, but building the house turned out to be the high point of the family's fortunes.

Chastleton House
 Their finances took a serious hit when Arthur Jones, Walter’s grandson backed the wrong side in the civil war. He escaped with his life, due to the quick thinking of his wife when parliamentarian soldiers came to arrest him after the battle of Worcester, and went into exile. He was able to return only after payment of a substantial fine and when the restored monarchy failed to show its gratitude by refunding the money, the descent into penury amid grand surroundings began. It was slow, inexorable and extraordinarily long drawn out, the family finally relinquishing ownership to the National Trust in 1991.

The Great Parlour, Chastelton House
As they never had the money to extend or remodel the house, or even afford much in the way of new furniture, the National Trust inherited a time capsule of Jacobean life. They decided not to attempt to restore the house to a former glory it never had but to conserve it as it was. It is thus a somewhat down-at-heal time capsule (insofar as a capsule can wear out footwear).
The Long Gallery, Chastelton House
At 22m the longest barrel vaulted room in England
Unusually photography is permitted inside, though flash is not, so taking pictures in focus required a steady hand.
The Fettiplace Room, high status bedroom
Chastleton House

The distance from the basement kitchen to the dining room on the far side of the house is striking - they could never have eaten hot food. The large high-ceilinged rooms must have made it almost impossible to heat the house never mind the food, and with oak panelling round so many of the walls, winters must have been cold and dark.

Kitchen, Chastleton House

Outside in the stable yard is a second hand bookshop with a somewhat cursory Wolf Hall exhibition. I have read the book but not seen the television series in which Chastleton played the title role, as well as Thomas Cromwell’s childhood home in Putney. Hilary Mantel’s historical research was meticulous but the television producers were more cavalier as the house was not built until 65 years after Thomas Cromwell was executed.

Stableyard, Chastleton House
It is only a few minutes drive from Chastleton to Adlestrop.

I do not know when I first encountered Edward Thomas's poem, but it was longer ago than I care to remember. It probably stuck in my memory because of the name, Adlestrop, which at first I believed to be made up. It took me longer to appreciate the poem as more than a piece of pastoral fluff, but I have gradually come to see the point - except for that clunky last line. Adlestrop is right on the boundary of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire (and Warwickshire for that matter) but did he have to crowbar in this geographical factoid?


Yes. I remember Adlestrop
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat, the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire
Edward Thomas

Adlestrop, pop 120, is real enough - a line of Cotswold stone cottages, all beautifully kept with cottage gardens and hanging baskets full of flowers - but the station, a victim of the Beeching axe in the 1960s, no longer exists. The station sign and one of the benches were saved and now sit in a bus shelter on the edge of the village.
Adlestrop station sign.
The plaque by my left elbow is a copy of the poem

Thomas’ train stopped in Adlestrop on June the 24th 1914. The date the poem was written is unknown, but it was published in 1917, the year Edward Thomas was killed in action in the Battle of Arras. The contrast between the rural idyll of Adlestrop and the hell of northern France is extraordinarily poignant.

Edward Thomas was there on a very different day from us. His sunshine was our rain, on a day which was colder than any July day I can remember.

We drove on through Stow-on-the-Wold and towards Bourton-on-the-Water, turning off towards Lower and then Upper Slaughter, two more Cotswold gems, the latter the home of the Lords of the Manor Hotel and Restaurant, our destination for the wedding anniversary meal, and the subject of the next post.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, David. Now I go off to my 32 year old journals to check up on these observations!