At the 2011 Burghley Horse Trials – part 1

One of the highlights of my social calendar is the annual trip to Burghley for the horse trials. Although I ride and, probably immodest of me to say it, ride rather well, neither my horse, nor my skill, nor my nerve would take me to this level. As it happens, we have just got an additional new horse that has competed at Burghley in the past – as has my partner – but just the sight of some of the fences fill me with such fear we won’t be attempting it!

There is something rather special about Burghley that is quite difficult to define. The atmosphere is electric yet relaxed, a great team of people organise it, the visitors all thoroughly enjoy it and, of course, there is the splendour of the magnificent Burghley House that dominates the grounds.

Burghley House was built in the 1500’s for the first Earl of Exeter, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourites. Today it is considered to be one of the finest Elizabethan houses in England and is still owned by the same family. Dominating the west front of the house and its turrets and towers, the great gilded gates were designed to catch the rays of the setting sun. These, and the huge numbers of windows, create a blaze of light on a summer’s evening , exactly the image that was required: power, wealth and fine enough to impress the Virgin Queen when she visited.

The Exeter crest is designed into the gates and, elsewhere, there is yet more gilding. The levels of craftsmanship is outstanding, not just in the architecture but down to every detail. Even the garden railings are beautifully crafted.

The grounds, where the horse trials take place, are also kept beautifully. A dominant feature of the parkland is the large numbers of Sweet Chestnut trees, mostly planted in avenues. Their immense girth really shows the twisted bark that is seldom seen on younger trees.

However, it is the lake and Lion Bridge that creates the focal centrepoint whether from the park or when seen from the house. These were created later than the house by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who else?!) around 1778. The lake is designed to give the impression of a winding river and features as an obstacle in the trials.
Trialling or eventing, for those unfamiliar with the sport – the word ‘horse’ is only said by those that don’t ride and is a social faux pas when used – is one of the toughest tests of endurance for both horse and rider. First there are dressage tests where the skill and accuracy of both are measured. This is followed by the most popular part of the contest (although all have their aficionados), the cross country course (link here). At a length of 6686 metres with 33 fences – the highest standing at 1.45m – it has a target time of just over 11 minutes to complete. Cross country tests the bravery, strength and stamina of both horse and rider. Finally, there is the showjumping on the last day. Here, the test is for stamina, accuracy and skill. This year, William Fox-Pitt won Burghley for the sixth time, a record, which made a very successful end to Burghley’s 50th anniversary.

If you are not horse crazy – and the majority of the thousands of people that come here are – there are other things to occupy your time. Socialising is important, catching up with people that you may see only here, and shopping is even more so. There are over five hundred shops to visit on the site selling everything from clothes to furniture, to paintings and sculpture and, of course, lots of horse related products. The food halls are important too: my favourite was the Neil’s Yard cheese shop with its amazing displays of English cheeses. They tasted good too!

For those of you that have never been here, do give it a try, especially at this time. The house and gardens are open to the public all year and, from time to time, concerts are performed here. Burghley House should be on every persons agenda to visit at leat once. If you need convincing, follow this link to their website.

The next post will concentrate more on the cross country course and will even have some ‘horsey’ photos!

No More Cheese Rolling…..

Another great Cotswold tradition has come to an end thanks to Health & Safety issues. Cheese Rolling, which has taken place at Cooper’s Hill for centuries, has been banned.

As a protest and in support of the cheese makers, I went out today and bought some of the same local type they use. Not a 7lb wheel, more a slither but it was the gesture that was important. And it tastes very good too. My photo below does not do justice to the texture, the smell and oh, the taste: ecstasy on a biscuit!

So what is cheese rolling? A 7lb Double Gloucester cheese is set in motion from the top of the steep hill – and it can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour – and us ‘locals’ then chase it. The first person to reach the bottom and cross the line is the winner. Yes, you are right -it is another barmy English tradition.

Cheese rolling is not for the faint hearted as competitors are catapulted through the air such is the force and momentum generated by the hill’s steepness. Injuries are common but not as serious as you might think – a few broken bones but that is of little consequence to those that want to take part. What is more odd, is that the Health and Safety concerns are not about the competitors but the spectators, for the event has become so popular that over 15000 people attended the last one, which is usually held in May. With our little country lanes totally jammed and the hill only able to cope with 5000 people, the numbers are quite obviously a problem.

But there is some good news: a revised version of cheese rolling may take place next year. If it involves eating the cheese rather than risking life and limb running after it, I may just enter the competition…….

[Acknowledgement to the Daily Mail for some of this information]

Deddington Christmas Farmer’s Market

Deddington, lies to the east of the Cotswolds and is an old coaching town, although only the size of a large village by modern standards. The golden ironstone buildings have a solidity that makes them neither quaint or especially pretty, unlike our limestone ones. However, they do have real charm and character. And most important of all, they hold a regular farmer’s market, reputed to be one of the best in England.

In this week of climate change summits in Copenhagen, there is something rather special in buying produce that is grown locally. The beef for sale from this farm in Duns Tew has travelled less than five miles from village to market. Not only that, but it looks so much nicer than the racks of clinically presented supermarket meat. Why eat meat from, say, Argentina, when you can look at the cattle grazing in fields nearby?
Crowds throng the produce stalls – the queue for bread so long that neither the purchase of some home baking or a photograph was possible. A gap at the cheese stall meant that tastings and subsequent purchases were more easily made. And despite the pushing and jostling, being Christmas, the mood was relaxed and vibrant for a market is a place to meet and chat with old friends as well as make purchases.

The church, which dates from the 13th century, dominates the market place and is itself busy selling cups of tea and homemade cakes. But when the hustle and bustle gets all too much there are quiet alleyways that you can slip into, away from the crowds. One day, I shall have to return and explore Deddington further, for it is a fascinating place.

Star shaped almond biscuits from the ladies in the church, buffalo cheese from Somerset, beef from Duns Tew and eggs from another nearby farm made our purchases of the day. The bowl of satsumas were also locally produced – grown in a client’s orangery which we created earlier this year. The holidays are going to be a great time of good and local feasting….


Postscript: I am ashamed to say I ate all of the biscuits already, they were so delicious. I knew it was a mistake to try one.

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