A Year in Review 2013: The First Six Months

As I feared, once you reach a certain age, time flies by even quicker than before and that certainly has happened in 2013.  Where has the year gone?  The only consolation is that speaking with young people, they say the same thing.  Perhaps that is a rather sad reflection of modern living for I often found that the time didn’t go by quickly enough years ago!  Despite the year having gone by rapidly, it has been a great one with some excitement along the way.

January: it is rapidly becoming a tradition that each New Year’s Day some close friends and I go off exploring.  This usually includes a museum and food.  The year before it had been London with a visit to the National Portrait Gallery followed by afternoon tea at my favourite grocers, Fortnum & Mason.  This January it was to the city of Bath with its glorious abbey church where Edgar was crowned King of England in 973AD.  The church has the most exquisite vaulting – it is hard to believe that such fine tracery can be achieved by carving stone.  Bath, which is a World Heritage Site, is famous for its Roman Baths built about a thousand years earlier and which are open to visitors.  A great place to view them from are the Pump Rooms, the imaginary setting of Sheridan’s Georgian play, The Rivals.  It was here that we had our champagne tea.

February was a mixed month weather-wise in the secret valley and one post describes the rain lashing against the windows and the trees being thrown around by a winter gale.  Despite that the winter aconites were in full flower advertising the advance of spring and the wild birds were hanging onto the feeders for dear life.  Take away the aconites and we have a carbon copy day as I write this and, although there are no signs of spring yet, we are passing the shortest day which is always encouraging.

March was a strange month too with huge amounts of rain interspersed with wintry weather.  Even stranger was the affect it had upon the secret valley’s frog population.  I can only assume that it was because everything was so saturated that, instead of laying their spawn in the small lake that is visible from the cottage, they laid them instead upon the tops of nearby fence posts. They couldn’t possibly have survived there anyway but it was sad to see a few days later that they had turned black and ‘melted’ when a hard frost fell upon them.

April is the month of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival.  I have been on the committee since its inception and it has been gratifying to find that it has rapidly established a good reputation with authors, publishers and festival goers. One of the star attractions for 2013 was Sir Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame.  Because it is a small festival in a small, country town the atmosphere is very relaxed and it is possible to meet the authors for book signings or just a chat as they stroll about ‘Chippy’.  This coming year the festival takes place from 24-27 April and tickets go on sale next month – check out the website for more details.

April also saw the launch of my new website www.johnshortlandwriter.com and also the start of my tweeting.  Come and join me @johnshortlandwr

May:  As I am always saying the secret valley is a magical place to live and one of the things that makes it so special is its history. Not the history of history books but the type that goes unrecorded other than by the clues it leaves behind in the landscape.  Here we have a patch of rough ground left uncultivated that is the invisible site of a Bronze Age settlement. Later, almost to within living memory, the lane was a drover’s route and, in places, the road has been abandoned to become a green track full of wild flowers and butterflies.  We still refer to one place as the ‘white gate’ even though it was removed a hundred years ago or more.  It feels special to know that the valley has been lived in and loved for over three thousand years.

It was also a very exciting time as my gardening book was published accompanied by radio and other interviews. The launch party took place a couple of months later.

June is a colourful time of year in gardens and one thing I’ve always wanted to create is an Iris border.  This is an extravagance of space that few can afford for they are only in flower for a relatively short time.  However, one of my clients liked the idea so the ‘rainbow’ border was created.  Interest is extended by daffodils and alliums for earlier colour and Japanese anemones, with large flowered clematis behind, for later on.

To read any of the posts referred to above just click on the links, coloured green.

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A Visit to Bath Abbey

There has been a church on the site of Bath Abbey for over a thousand years but the present Abbey Church is relatively new by British ecclesiastical standards.  Building started in 1499 but it was not until the early 1600’s that it was completed.  This was due to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 and the Abbey remained as ruins until 1616 when the church was repaired; the last of the great medieval churches to be built. 

 
Tradition states that the Abbey Church was built after the then Bishop of Bath dreamt of angels descending – and ascending – to heaven.  It is this vision that is first seen as you enter the building carved into the stonework either side of the West Front.  The great flying buttresses were added in the mid 1830’s to strengthen the building after cracks appeared in the tower; at the same time the pinnacles were also installed.

In late Victorian times many of Britain’s churches had their interiors radically altered and Bath Abbey was no exception.  Much was removed – the organ and screen were taken away which has created the breath-taking view down the full length of the church to the Great East Window, also fitted at this time.  Many other windows were fitted with stained glass and that of the west window was replaced.
 

 
Perhaps the most striking of all of the church’s features is the stone fan vaulting: that of the nave was also created then to match the earlier ones of the chancel.  It soars to great heights with such delicacy and feeling of light that it is difficult to remember it is of stone – or imagine the many hours of craftsmanship that the stonemason’s must have carried out.
 

 

Carving of an earlier date, 1649, is the tomb of Sir William Waller’s wife, Jane.  Sir William fought against the Royalists in the English Civil War and intended to be buried with her.  He was however buried in London.
 

Much of the information for this post has been gleaned from the Abbey Church’s excellent website and pamphlets.  It is a magnificent building and well worth allowing plenty of time to visit for there is much to see.  It is, of course, in the city centre and adjacent to the ancient Roman Baths and Georgian Pump Rooms; these featured in an earlier post which can be seen by clicking here.

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New Year Resolution: Bath More Often

This is not really a post about washing and personal hygiene although I suppose, in a way, it is.  Where can you sit and watch the steam rising from warm bath water whilst having liveried waiters serve you tea in a highly polished silver tea service along with traditional English afternoon tea of scones and cakes?  Add to this scene, chandeliers and a pianist playing at a grand piano and you could be forgiven that it is fantasy.

But, of course, it isn’t for this is England and is just another example of the crossing of eccentricity, tradition and commercialism to create the Pump Room in the city of Bath.  In the photo below, the Pump Room is in the further building, the nearer one being the entrance to the Roman Baths themselves.

Bath developed soon after the Romans had invaded Britain giving it the name of Aquae Sulis about AD60 although the hot spring had been a sacred place even before then. Over the next three hundred years the waters were gradually enclosed and then abandoned two hundred years after that with the fall of the Roman Empire.


photo: view of the Roman baths from the Pump Room tea rooms

During the eighteenth century the Grand Pump Rooms were built where it was possible to ‘take the waters’.  At this time, the dandy Beau Nash became Master of Ceremonies and made Bath the most fashionable resort in Britain – the future of the Pump Rooms was assured.


Photo: Beau Nash (statue) still presides over the social gatherings in the Pump Room

Today the Pump Rooms are the perfect place to relax and just absorb the genteel atmosphere.  It is very easy to imagine  Catherine Morland visiting here in the hope of meeting Mr Tilney in Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey.  Although the rooms are steeped in tradition they are not an intimidating place to  visit and all are welcome – it isn’t necessary to be wearing formal clothes! They are open every day for lunch and tea or, if you really want to be exclusive, you can book them for your private party in the evenings.


Photo: even the stairway to the cloakrooms has style!

In the YouTube video below, the music is performed by the Pump Room Trio, the longest, continuous playing  ensemble in Europe.  The fountain is shown in the clip where you can try the water yourself for which, I believe, there is no charge even if you don’t stay for tea.

Bath is a fascinating city to visit and a World Heritage Site.  This will be one New Year’s Resolution that will be easy to keep: visit Bath more often.


Photo: The Royal Crescent, Bath


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