Tibet in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds are full of surprises; they are around every corner. Often it is a beautiful, old stone building, a dramatic view or a colourful cloudscape.  Occasionally it is something else and at the tiny village of Todenham near Moreton-in-Marsh it is the sight of tall, Tibetan flags fluttering in the breeze.

After exploring the Himalayas and Nepal in particular, Alain Rouveure, a Frenchman living in the Cotswolds, felt a real need to help the less privileged families he met there.  Am admiration of their craftsmanship and tribal art led to the creation of the Alain Rouveure Galleries some twenty-five years ago.  Today it is a thriving business whose profits are returned to the country which supplies the clothing, jewellery, gifts and rugs that make the galleries a treasure trove of colour, texture and scents.

More recently, he has set up the Alain Rouveure Nepal Relief Fund which is funding the building of schools as well as caring for the health of poor children and their families.  A relatively small amount of money goes a very long way: repainting a classroom £45, desks and benches for four students £55.  However, it isn’t just these practical issues that funding assists for, as Alain says, just knowing that there are people from far away taking an interest in their remote communities makes a huge difference not just to individuals but also to the whole village.

Surrounding the galleries are small but very lovely and tranquil gardens.  The calendula in the photographs were grown from seed given to Alain by Nepalese gardeners at Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace, and it is interesting to see such a disparity of size and colour all of which help to create a splendid show.

On my visit, I spent a long time trying out the numerous Tibetan singing bowls deciding which sound I liked the best.  It was something I’d always wanted to own but I hadn’t realised before then just how much they vary both in their size and their ‘ring’.  In the end I realised that it was going to be a bowl choosing me rather than the other way around.  Traditionally, the bowls are used in meditation and prayer and the sound – and the vibration from them – is mesmeric. The YouTube clip is of Tibetan bowls being played alongside Native American flutes.  The method of generating the pulsating ‘singing’ is shown at about 10:30 into the video. The combination of sounds from two cultures is fascinating and memorable especially when wild birds start to sing in the background.



The visit ended with lunch at the Himalayan coffee house where a very good home grown salad – followed by a ‘to die for’ cake – was had at very modest cost.  Recently treatment rooms have been added and there are also fund raising concerts – the next to be held is Songs and Arias with the mezzo-soprano, Cerys Jones accompanied by harpist, Tanya Houghton on Saturday 14th September, 7.30pm.

For more information about the galleries have a look at their extensive website.

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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!

A Very English Day Out


Last Sunday turned out to be a glorious day after twenty four hours of much needed rain. Thank goodness it did for a friend had organised that most English of traditions – a posh picnic on the lawns of a large country house, followed by a concert in the music room.


And so we found ourselves eating smoked salmon sandwiches, coronation chicken, salads, ending with strawberries and cream, all washed down with an endless supply of champagne. But our friend didn’t just do us proud with the picnic, she had invited an eclectic mix of guests. There was an art historian, an art restorer, an explorer, a porcelain restorer, myself a garden designer amongst others. And we were international as well, for amongst the guests was an American, a Persian, myself part Polish – but the pure bred Brits did outnumber us….


Boarstall, where the concert took place, is a fourteenth century moated gatehouse. Of course, a building with such a long history has seen many changes and events, a major one being during the (English) Civil War when it was besieged for ten weeks. Damaged by cannon fire, ( the bricked up ‘patches’ can still be seen), upon its surrender the main part of the house, church and village were all destroyed by the victorious Parliamentarians. The mansion and the church were rebuilt but only the latter remains, the house being demolished once again in 1778. Since that time the tower has remained virtually unchanged. Now owned by the National Trust, it is lived in by tenants who organise the concerts.

We had come to hear a young soprano, Luci Briginshaw, sing arias from the great operas, accompanied by Peter McMullin on the piano. Luci’s story is rather like an opera plot in itself – a nice one fortunately rather than one where everyone gets murdered or dies of consumption! Busking in Covent Garden market, Luci was heard singing and invited to perform at Boarstall.

The music room at Boarstall is on the top floor of the tower and is reached by ancient, spiral stone staircases. Light and airy, it holds about 100 people so makes an intimate space where you can really relate to the performers and fellow audience. Luci’s singing was delightful, a pure clear voice, she obviously will – or deserves to – go far. Not just a wonderful coloratura soprano, for her encore, she accompanied herself on the piano singing a great blues number.

After the concert, Luci joined us all with a tour of the tower (how cross I was that, by then, I’d taken the camera back to the car) followed by afternoon tea, where she proved that she had a great personality off stage as well as on.

You will find a link to Luci’s website here, for Luci should be heard far and wide. And if, by a remote chance, Luci you should read this post, thank you for a memorable day out. Can’t wait to hear you again. Bravo!