Almost hidden from view, our old stone cottage stands well above the little winding river
In 2011, we had a very late frost blackening both the leaves and flowers – it took months for the tree to recover
The making of mosaic patterns is often associated with the Romans although the earliest known examples pre-date them to 3000BC. Associated with many cultures, mosaic artists still flourish today, an unbroken tradition of five thousand years.
The Hunting Dogs mosaic: head of Oceanus 2nd century AD
In Britain, one of the finest collections of early mosaics can be found in the Cotswold town of Cirencester, situated 93 miles west of London. With a population of 18000, it is one of the larger hubs in the Cotswolds yet has maintained a lot of its old charm for there are still many independent shops as well as the usual High Street chain stores.
History oozes from the very fabric of Cirencester: home to the the oldest agricultural college (Royal Agricultural College) in the English speaking world, founded in 1845; it is also home to the oldest polo club in England (Cirencester Park Polo Club) which was founded in 1894. The charter for the market, still held twice weekly, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086.
The Hunting Dogs mosaic: Sea Leopard 3rd century AD
However, when the words Cirencester and history are linked together it is the Romans that predominate for their town, Corinium – now modern day Cirencester – was the second most important city in Britain. Corinium lay at the centre of their great road network where Akeman Street, Ermine Street and the Fosse Way all meet, still busy roads today. There are still the remains of a number of their villas in the region that are possible to explore.
The great Roman ampitheatre here was also the second largest in the country with tiered wooden seating for eight thousand spectators. Today, all that remains are a series of banks and ditches, still impressive and well worth visiting.
The Seasons mosaic: 2nd century AD Actaeon being attacked by his own hunting dogs
If there is not a huge amount to see of the original splendour of the ampitheatre, you will not be disappointed by a trip to the town’s Corinium Museum which has recently been extended and refurbished making it one of the best museums in the country. The museum holds over one and a half million artefacts but the most impressive of all of their exhibits have to be the Roman mosaics.
The Seasons mosaic: 2nd century AD
The Seasons is one of the most impressive mosaics in Britain, discovered in Cirencester in 1849, with pictures of goddesses depicting spring, summer and autumn. Winter is missing. In the museum the floor has been laid in an area reproducing a room in a Roman villa.
Detail from the Hare mosaic, 4th century AD
The hare is frequently used in Celtic art and fables but was rarely used by the Romans, making this central motif of the mosaic floor unique. If you click on the photo above to enlarge it, you will see that there have been shards of green glass laid into the hare’s back.
Detail from the Hare mosaic, 4th century AD
The Hare mosaic, 4th century AD
The museum does not just hold Roman aretfacts, it also covers finds from pre-history as well as more recent times such as Saxon brooches and a large hoard of coins dating back to the English civil war, subjects of a later post. The Cirencester Museum is really worth making the effort to visit – you can find out more details by visiting their website, here.
The British are always going on about the weather and I’m no exception. My very first words upon waking are “What is the weather doing?” and my final words before sleeping are “What will the weather be doing?”. I make no apologies for this: it’s part of our make-up as a nation. It’s because, I was once told, that whereas other countries have seasons, Britain just has weather. It’s not quite that simple, we do have seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – just like any other temperate country, it’s just that in the UK they get a bit muddled up.
I write this, snug in front of the woodburner – not that much heat is getting past She-dog who thinks this has been lit solely for her pleasure and comfort – listening to a gale rattling the window panes and whistling around the eaves. The rain is lashing down and there is absolutely no need for me to ask what the weather is doing this evening. However, I have been told that I have said “Listen to the weather” several times. I could have said how remarkable it is that only yesterday I had my lunch sitting in the garden. Yes, really.
I should admit that I am a hardy sole as I work outdoors all year and so am less affected by cold than most and I also should admit that I was wearing a coat and gloves and sitting in a sheltered, sunny spot. Regardless of those finer details, yesterday I commented how last year to the day we were up to our necks in snow in the worst wintry weather the Secret Valley had had for years. And, even more remarkably, the snow came when you would expect it – in midwinter but (and there’s always a ‘but’ where British weather is concerned) in the Cotswolds we rarely get snow before January ….. But it was still rather remarkable to be sitting there, surely and remark worthy?
What is even more remarkable is that all of this week I have been planting out herbaceous plants and laying turf; late even by our odd climate standards. We have had frosts: there were three quite hard ones in October, then none until the last week of November and then a couple more last week and none since. In between, we had two weeks of warmish air and thick fog which was enough to make even me depressed.
The spirits, even on those damp, grey days, were uplifted by the huge array of flowers that have reappeared. There are always a few late roses hanging on determinedly until Christmas Day, looking bedraggled and ragged but not this time. Some of them have given up but others have almost as many blooms as midsummer. There are pots of herbaceous Salvia nemerosa ‘Mainacht’ that have regrown after their end-of-season haircut and are in full bloom once again. Primroses and cowslips are showing colour. Today I counted over twenty different summer flowering plants still going strong. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I really mean showing the odd flower or two. All the plants have become muddled so we have Winter Jasmine as you would expect but not alongside spring flowering Forsythia. And we have evergreen, flowering shrubs such as Viburnum and Sarcococca as we should have at this time of year – but not alongside the newly unfurling purple leaves of Cotinus cogyggria. Where, or more to the point, when will it all end? Possibly quite soon.
It isn’t just the garden that is confused. On the farm the cattle are still out grazing the fields. They should be inside by now but with plenty of grass still available in the fields they can be out for a little longer.
While I am here writing about a bit of wind and rain, the north of England and Scotland, in particular, are bearing the brunt of 100mph gales and heavy snow. Perhaps we are quite fortunate, after all. The rain here is only supposed to last a few hours and tomorrow is forecast unbroken sunshine once more. Which reminds me, I really must start talking about the lack of rain we have had in recent months. The little winding river is running lower than it ever has and can be easily walked across in places in just walking boots where the water flows over gravel . It should look, at this time of year, like the photograph I use on the header to this blog. Instead it looks like midsummer again with the water, where it flows deeper, still choked with watercress. Oh well! I suppose I should be grateful that I am still able to go out and pick it in December – I can make a store of some delicious hot soup to drink when the weather realises it is winter.
All the photographs, except for She-dog in the snow, were taken over the past week or two. When the frost has been hard the Secret Valley has looked at its best.
It is said that the English, compared to those from other countries, always talk of the weather and, I have to admit that it is true. I have also heard it said that, whereas other countries have ‘climate’, we just have ‘weather’. And it is weather that has shaped the nation’s psyche, especially those of us that earn our living standing outside in it.
It has been an odd year. The hardest and earliest winter for years gave way to a lovely spring, March and April being mild and sunny. We were then hit by the hardest May frost that anyone could remember and here, in the secret valley, many of the trees had their newly formed leaves and flower buds blackened. The horse chestnuts and oaks seemed hardest hit, although oddly enough, not all of them and not even all of the leaves or flowers on the same tree. Those damaged leaves fell and bare braches remained until July when, suddenly, they sprouted fresh leaves with the same verdent intensity as you would find two or three months earlier.
But what has happened now? Three days ago, we returned to chill, and with a drop of nearly twenty degrees it suddenly feels more like November. Some leaves have begun to turn colour but others have fallen, too exhausted to give us their fleeting pleasure of golds and yellows. Snow is forecast up north in Scotland and every day the news is full of gloomy stories of an even harsher winter than the last one.
To compete at the Burghley horse trials you have to be brave, for the size of the fences are not for the faint-hearted. However, to have reached the standard that is required, riders and their horses have had to overcome fear in plenty and have the necessary skill, stamina and strength to compete at this level – not just on the cross-country course but also in dressage and showjumping disciplines. It certainly draws the crowds with over 140,000 people attending.
In part 1 of these posts on the Trials – click here for link – the photograph below was also the first photograph shown, but before the trials began. It looked a huge, solid jump (and was) but the horses cleared it with ease. It is often the smaller jumps where a tired rider or horse come unstuck. Fortunately, this year, there were no major casualties although, sadly, these do occur from time to time.
Burghley, because of its status as one of the top eventing locations, not just in Britain but worldwide, attracts the superstars of the equestrian world, from both the UK and overseas. Ollie Townend won Burghley in 2009 and was a favourite to win this year. It wasn’t to be, with one of his horses being eliminated on the cross country, the other having to retire.
Over the coming weeks and months I hope to share with you life in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas of southern Britain. You will see from my profile that I have many interests, mostly connected with gardening and the countryside and these will be included. I do hope that you will find the time to visit regularly and to offer your feedback so that I may improve the blog further. So, please, get emailing!
This is the top of ‘our’ secret valley , taken in high summer – a place full of wild flowers and birds and, nowadays, the occasional otter. More of that to come……