Dropping In Unexpectedly

We are sociable animals here in the secret valley and nothing pleases us more than when friends call in unexpectedly as they pass by.  It doesn’t matter whether there is just one or twentyone, we can always find enough in the store cupboards to water, and feed them too if needbe.  More often than not, they are on their way somewhere so a cup of tea, or something a little stronger, is all that is required.

Not the secret valley but still in the Cotswolds.  If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can see that the river Windrush has as many twists and turns in it as our little river

Most of the time visitors arrive by car or on foot for the lane that brings you into the valley is as inviting and sinuous as the little winding river itself: it takes you across cornfields, through trees which create, at this time of year, a leafy tunnel before entering a fold in the hills lined with an avenue of cherry and lime trees.  It is here that you get your first glimpse of the river and beyond the meanders the lane turns sharply over the bridge taking you a few more yards to the door of our home.

The villages of Lower and Upper Oddington – you can clearly see the lines of the old ‘ridge and furrow’ field plough marks that can date back a thousand years or more

The secret valley, as I have mentioned before, is a landscape in miniature.  Everything is small – the road, the hills, the views, the river, even the stone built bridge you can pass over without noticing it.  If it all sounds very idyllic that is because it is.

A couple of weeks ago we had some very unexpected guests although we could hear them arriving for quite a while before they finally did so.  It was the unmistakeable sound of a hot air balloon losing height.  Hidden by trees we could not see who was landing but went off to investigate – She-dog leading the way – and to assist if required.  The multicoloured stripes told us it belonged to Charles Teall who lives some miles away and who had once taken me for a flight, although on that occasion we had not landed on our doorstep – for details of that flight click here.

Charles’ wife, Liz, incidentally, is a very talented potter and we have some very nice pieces of her work.  She, like myself, is interested in traditional folk music but, unlike me, she can sing and play the whistle and tabor; she also belonged until recently to a local Morris dancers side.  Have a look at her work by clicking here.

By the time we reached it, the balloon had already landed.  It never fails to surprise me just how large it is and just how small the basket is.

She-dog is normally fairly cautious and we thought that she would be nervous of the balloon.  As always, she proved us wrong and felt it important to inspect every part of the balloon: below, the folding meets her approval.  Talking of approval, those of you that follow She-dog’s exploits may have been wondering what is the latest on puppy news: there isn’t any.  On the last two occasions she has refused to co-operate.  She obviously felt that once was quite enough!

I am always surprised how neatly everything folds away and into such a small space.  There is always a mobile support team to assist where necessary so our help wasn’t required.  Once packed we were able to catch up with the latest news over a drink and reminisce about our trip flying over the Cotswolds.  The aerial shots were all taken on that day.

The counties of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, which form the greater part of the region known as the Cotswolds, have some of the best surviving examples of ridge and furrow.  To find out how these were created, click here.

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Up, up and away

It is time to take you on an aerial tour of the Cotswold countryside and gardens and how better than by hot air balloon? This flight was my birthday present last spring, when the countryside was looking at its lushest best – the yellow fields of Rape contrasting vividly with the bright greens.

The layout of this garden near the village of Oddington is beautifully illustrated from the air – I wonder if the owners were ever so fortunate to see it from above?

The walled, organic gardens at Daylesford, too, are shown to be quite an unusual shape: the intricate design of the parterre giving way to a less formal area uses this to its advantage – a study in good design. Saxon ridge and furrow field systems are also shown in sharp relief. There are a lot of these around the Cotswolds and they can originate from as far back as a thousand years although many were worked up until a couple of hundred years ago. Now preserved and retained as pasture, often the drier, warmer ridges have quite different wild flowers growing compared with the damper furrows.

We ‘touched down’ in a field not far from the small town of Stow-on-the-Wold, shown in the photo below. Stow is famed for its twice annual Gypsy Horse Fair where travellers gather from all over the UK to buy and sell ponies and catch up with news. It is also well known for its exposed climate as in the local saying “Stow-on-the-Wold where the wind blows cold”.

The balloon’s shadow chasing us is a favourite photo as also is this one of the burners in full flame!

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