Saturday, 23 June 2012

"The Most Beautiful English Village"

The tiny village of Bibury has long been recognised as one of the prettiest places in the Cotswolds and is much visited by tourists.  It is everything you might magine an old English village to be; so much so that some visitors, according to local gossip, not realising that it isn't a theme park creation, walk into people's homes to have a look around.


Ancient cottages in mellow Cotswold stone, a crystal clear, trout-filled river running alongside the main street, an old mill and a great pub offering food and accomodation all make Bibury "the most beautiful English village" as William Morris, the Arts and Crafts textile designer described it when he visited during the 1800's.




The old cottages are so perfect and their setting so tranquil that they appear to have created an ethos amongst their owners: each house and garden has to be more well maintained than their neighbours.  The only weeds I saw there were across the river in the marsh and, of course, not only were they growing where they belong - in a wild setting - but there were only the most attractive ones such as Yellow Flags, the bog irises and the flat, white heads of the hogweeds.








No English village is complete without its church and pub and Bibury has both.  The church of St Mary's dates back to the 12th century and is well worth seeking out for it is tucked away down one of Bibury's few side streets.

 
If the church tries to remain hidden, no such claim can be made for The Swan, one of the landmark buildings situated on the bend where the road crosses the River Coln.  The creeper covered pub/hotel is a good place to watch the world go by although, rarely does a car go by without its occupants stopping to explore the village.  This is quite a problem for there are so many visitors and cars that to experience the tranquility of the place, or to get photographs such as those on this blog, you either need to stay overnight or to visit the village early in the day.  Looking at the online reviews for the Swan, I was amused to see that the only gripes were complaints about old furniture, no street lighting and no wifi or mobile phone signals - surely, some of the very best reasons for visiting!

 


 
It can almost be guaranteed that every calander of the Cotswolds will have a photograph of Arlington Row - probably on it's front cover.  Set back away from the road, it is reached by a footbridge: a terrace of former 16th century weavers cottages which, in turn, were converted from a 13th century wool store.  The importance of wool in creating the wealth of the Cotswolds and its churches, including the development of the Cotswold breed of sheep, now endangered, has been described in earlier posts on this blog (click here).  For more on the Cotswold sheep and the work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust to preserve them, click here.

Arlington Row's importance in history of vernacular architecture was recognised by the Royal Society of Arts in 1929 when they purchased and restored it.  A plaque, commemorating this is set into a nearby wall.



Exploring Arlington Row gives visitors an opportunity to see just how higgledy-piggledy the construction of old house are.  The old stone walls and mismatched rooflines and windows are juxtaposed seemingly at random - a modern planning departments nightmare.






Despite, the large numbers of tourists (for we all like to believe that we fall out of that category and will be the only persons there), Bibury is well worth making the effort to visit.  It is situated close to Cirencester, one of the most important Roman towns in the UK, with its wealth of history and it is also within easy reach of Oxford.  If I had to choose only one place to take a visitor to see, I think that Bibury would be highly placed on the list. 

Let me know - especially overseas readers, please - which would be the one place that epitomises old rural living in your country.












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Saturday, 9 June 2012

The River Pageant

In 1717, a musical pageant was held on the River Thames for King George I and was captured on the famous canvas by Canaletto.  This was not the first time that there had been royal river pageants but it was this painting that was the inspiration for the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant for Queen Elizabeth.  




A major feature of the pageant was again music but the number of boats on the river was to outrival all the previous pageants of the past.  Over 1000 boats took part, breaking not just the record for London but becoming the largest ever in the world.  The oldest boat dated back to 1740 and one, the Amazon, had taken part in the celebrations to mark Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee(the present Queen's great-great grandmother) in 1897.




 Central to the parade was the Royal Barge that carried the royal party.

 


The barge sailed past many of the iconic images of London - The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral which can also be seen  in the Canaletto painting.  Crowds lined the banks of the river and also the bridges - they can just about be seen through the torrential rain that fell for most of the day.  Despite that nearly one and a quarter million people came to see the pageant and wish the Queen well.  The boats sailing in front of St Paul's are bearing all the flags of the Commonwealth countries.

 


 




All  along the banks, tributes were made to the Queen ranging from military salutes to one from War Horse on the roof of the National Theatre.




 


Every church bell along the river answered the peal from the barge leading the procession.  The floating belfry was carrying a specially comissioned set of eight bells - these were later hung in the Church of St James at Garlickhythe.

 

 The fire boats also gave their salutes wetting already soaked participants even more ......

 

 And Tower Bridge raised its bascules to their highest point in acknowledgement .....

 

Despite the grey, dreary weather the river - it is rarely given its full title of the River Thames - was a spectacle of colour, of bells ringing, of music coming from one of several orchestral barges and the sound of the crowds cheering, clapping and singing the national anthem, "God Save the Queen".

 


 

 Once the Royal party had passed through Tower Bridge, the pageant came to an end.  It concluded with the choral barge singing patriotic songs with great fervour despite the choir being drenched to the skin.  Never had the words of "Rule Brittania" seemed more pertinant:  "Rule Brittania, Brittania rule the waves ......"

 


 


 For more details of the procession or to read about the individual boats that took part, visit the official website of the river pageant:  http://www.thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org/ .  Much of the information above has been taken from their very informative site.


 


 


The Gloriana (above) is the first Royal rowbarge to have been made in over 100 years.  Covered in gold leaf it lived up to its name.  Pphotographs can be found on an online article of the Daily Mail - and more information - by clicking here.
  
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