What a funny summer. In Austin it’s been pouring, and even the Beeb broadcasts photos of Stetson-hatted homeowners fighting knee deep waters back home in the US. Here, French tourism trade is glad that a fifth more British travelers than usual have fled the cool weather. British tourism is sending all sorts of special offers to make up for last year’s debacle with foot and mouth and September 11. It’s been cool; my legs still aren’t Texas summer legs, smooth and tan. They’re more like winter legs!
We took a long fourth of July weekend and went back to the Cotswolds after deciding that our plan to see northerly Durham Cathedral was too far. The Cotswolds are England as if designed by Walt Disney: beautiful rose-covered stone cottages, winding country lanes, green leas, and hills polka-dotted with white fluffy sheep. Nary a traffic light or neon sign intrudes on miles of narrow roads, past old stone chapels, graveyards, gardens, and pubs, cutting through tall hedgerows or fields.
What’s a wold? It is similar to the Old English or German wald, wood, but it’s a woodless plain or meadow, and here it’s on a limestone ridge. I looked it up!
We visited Sudley Castle, once home to Queen Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife, who survived the chubby king only to die in childbirth a year later at 31. She married Sir Thomas Seymour, whom she’d loved before Henry chose her, but she did her duty to the aging king. (“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived.”) Seymour, newly widowed, lost his head soon afterwards for his ambitious pursuit of power and teenage Elizabeth, among other things. Henry, Elizabeth I and her mother Anne Boyelyn have also stayed at Sudley castle. Charles I and his nephew Rupert used it during the Civil Wars, for which they were soon executed by Cromwell’s forces.
The castle is surrounded by 14 acres of gardens, including many nearly extinct and unusual plants, and inside are paintings by Van Dyck, Turner, Rubens, and other masters. Many rooms are open to visitors, with historical mannequins in period costume, all lit by gothic stone windows. A dark reflecting pond’s waterlilies scarcely disturb wavy reflections of tall ruins: the Great Hall. Owners Lord and Lady Ashcombe, like most remaining estate owners here, have made the place a commercial concern, with jousts, theatricals, music, and balls. There is a conference village nearby on 1200 acres.
Their stone chapel was being decorated for their daughter’s wedding the next day, with ribbons holding sprays of fresh blue and white flowers on the pews: Mary’s colors, to match white lilies and flowers symbolizing purity in the circular garden at the main door. Three women in slacks leaned from tall ladders to hang green boughs over the arched door, with more lilies and flowers to be added the next morn. Katherine’s tomb is on the left side of the altar.
We stayed in beautiful Washbourne Court Hotel for the first night, which was wonderful, and in the Crown Inn for the second night, which wasn’t, but we visited towns and churches and walked and photographed. The hotel, on the River Eye, dates from the 17th century. Lower Slaughter (slohtre may have meant a marshy place) has a mill, still working, and a 13th century church. Nearby in Burford are tombstones unlike any I’ve seen. The tops of the 4 ft. tall stones are rounded, like bales of wool, reflecting the wealth of the area during the 1600’s and thereafter from wool, much of which was sent to Italy to be made into beautiful cloaks and fine clothes. Church members embroidered colorful kneelers, and one of the 6 tower bells dates from 1450. Although this church is a delight, it’s only one of many scattered throughout the villages nearby. Nearby is one of the biggest dovecotes in England, once housing over 1000 birds.
The next day we visited Snowshill Manor, a monument to a collector extraordinaire, Charles Wade, who began amassing things at age 7, using his allowance. He lived frugally, with no running water or electricity, in a cottage in front of the wonderful house he restored to hold his “stuff.” The restored house had been a monastery from 821 until Henry’s dissolution in the 1530’s. Wade had tiny shells, gems, lace, and arrowheads, but also massive looms, fine art, blunderbusses, police truncheons, arms, beds, musical instruments, toys, tools, reliquaries, Japanese armor (mucho, all on mannequins in a large dark room!) and oh so much more. After awhile it all became a soup, and I wondered how it could all be dusted! No wonder his young wife left so often for so long. Again, wonderful gardens. The National Trust has it all now, and there are another 2000 garments displayed in a separate venue.
On the way home, we stopped to buy groceries, since we still had our rental car. It was wonderful to buy a six pack of Coke AND a bag of apples without worrying about how heavy they’d get before trudging home. In the rain.
I highly recommend Galileo’s Daughter to all. It’s based on letters recently discovered, written by Sister Maria Celeste, his daughter. Most likely his to her were burned, probably in fear of the Inquisition. The author also wrote Longitude, a must-read if you come here and visit the place where Greenwich time began. It's east, down the Thames.
Hormone Replacement Therapy is under fire, making front page headlines here.
Damn, I’ve taken Premarin since my hysterectomy. (To stay young! You hadn’t noticed?) My Plan B is to grow older, but act immature forever! At least we’re a generation with medical care available, a great blessing. I just had some heart tests, and am fine, but lose a stone, the doc said, to be even better. I already knew that. (A stone is 14 pounds.)
I got an article about Joan, a painter friend in Colorado. My friend Jan is recovering from having cancerous breastsremoval, a friend here just scheduled prostate removal for cancer, and a friend in the US awaits radiation for same. A longtime friend has left her husband for an old flame, also married, and another friend is newly dealing with separation. Back when the Church dictated most of my belief and behavior, I thought these events occurred at the library, under Fiction. We have news of family babies and weddings ahead. Life goes on, and human issues of love, respect, and endurance rewrite themselves anew, as always.
I’ve felt I’m only in town to repack suitcases, but I keep up with the papers. There was another tube strike while we were in Budapest. Gun crime is way up in London. The new Archbishop of Canterbury was recently made a druid. Many healthcare workers here are imported, and it’s been discovered that thousands of African nurses have HIV. If they stay, which EU regs permit, their medical care could amount to £10,000 a month each, paid by the National Health Service, which tested no health workers. Bad little hedgehogs are eating birds’ eggs on the ground in the Scottish islands. They will now be trapped and relocated or annihilated.
Birds are in decline, and so is this chronicle, as we head off for a week on a South Carolina beach with the family, 20 of us under one (probably noisy) roof. I hope for sun. Perhaps you’ve seen the gamecock mascot on bumper stickers of the University of South Carolina? Its slogan shouts, “YOU CAN’T LICK OUR COCKS!” Adie