We’ve begun the final phase of our visit to SW England and that is to spend a few days in Cheltenham so that we can visit some of the beautiful villages in the Cotswolds region of England.
The time has changed for us today as Summer Time ended last night. Moving the clocks one hour backward makes a big difference at this time of the year. It was much lighter in the morning, but the sun now sets at 4.00 pm. Fortunately, there is still a fairly long period of twilight. Tonight it was dark by 5.00 pm. When we first arrived here three weeks ago, it was still light after 6.00 pm. I guess this means we will just have to get going earlier in the morning to make the most of the daylight.
Today, we decided to see some of the villages and towns to the south of Cheltenham that have a cuteness factor of 6+. There are some very quaintly named towns in this region – Tiddlewink, Pucklechurch, Itchington, Quedgeley, Fiddington and many others. One of the villages that we drove through was called ‘The Gibbs’. I couldn’t help but ask myself if the people who lived there all spoke ‘Gibberish’.
We started our touring day by visiting the old market town of Wotton-Under-Edge. Unlike many Cotswolds country towns in which the parish church, market place and principal buildings lie close to one another, Wotton-under-Edge has no recognised centre point. Its church and the Chipping, or old market place, are a long way apart and separated by the busy Long Street and High Street. The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin is the town’s most important architectural feature. It is framed by trees and possesses a fine late 14th century tower.
There are three groups of Almshouses in the town, all which still operate.The earliest of these is a stone building with a central courtyard. A notice says that its residents must be of good character and attend the chapel for prayers daily. Almshouses are charitable housing provided to enable people (typically elderly people who can no longer work to earn enough to pay rent) to live in a particular community. They are often targeted at the poor of a locality, at those from certain forms of previous employment, or their widows, and are generally maintained by a charity or the trustees of a bequest.
In another street, we chanced across the Fish Inn. I don’t know when this building last operated as an inn or a tavern but I suspect it was a good number of years ago. The notice on the building says that it was built in the 10th century. Even if it is not currently serving ale, there are a good number of other pubs in town that offer meals and refreshments to weary travellers.
Next, we went to another market town named Chipping Sodbury. It was founded in the 12th century. The word ‘Chipping’ in its name implies that it was once an important market centre in medieval times. It has a long market square, or ‘Chepynge’, as it was called in the medieval times and hence the name, ‘Chipping’. Now known as Broad Street, this old marketplace is bordered with a vast assortment of houses from every period, but largely 17th-century Cotswold stone buildings or Georgian ones made from mellow brick. Most of these are now occupied by bright and cheerful shops which still retain a lively country atmosphere. It is still quite common to see a tractor drive down the main street.
We thought that we might head to a neighbouring town for lunch so we headed to the nearby town of Little Sodbury. To get there, we had to cross the Sodbury Common – an open area on which animals are grazed. The town turned out to be nothing more than an old church and a manor house, so we pushed on across more of the common, through a close gate, and eventually back to Chipping Sodbury. We found a pub there for lunch. The traditional meal in these pubs on Sunday is a roast dinner. I chose the lamb and I ended up with a plate for the lamb, another for the vegetables and yet another one loaded with potatoes. It was more for than I would normally eat in a week.
Late in the afternoon, we headed to the third place that we had planned to visit – the very cute little town of Castle Combe. This village has been rated as the prettiest village in England and has a cuteness factor of about 12+ (out of ten).
It was once a weaving town at the heart of the Cotswolds wool trade. It is one of the most visited villages and frequently finds itself used as a backdrop for period television and cinema dramas. The village is built around the 14th-century Market Cross with the old water pump beside it. The village church, St. Andrew’s, is probably 12th century and of particular interest inside is the modified 15th-century faceless clock (one of the oldest working clocks in England) which used to ring the hours from the tower.
The classic view of the village is from across the bridge by the old weavers’ cottages. I need all my patience to be able to take a photo with very few people in it.
It was getting dark as we headed back to Cheltenham,abiout forty minutes away. There was just enough light to photograph some of the large manor houses that we passed in the little villages along the way. Their properties were very large and bordered with stone fences that must have been made by some very skilful stone masons.