At the Warwickshire Hunt Team Chase

Horses play an important part of our everyday lives and with my partner having spent a lifetime involved with riding for both pleasure and competitively, it is not surprising that so many of our friends are ‘horsey’ too.

I took up riding rather late in life compared to most and although I’m a competent rider, I’ve never been tempted to do anything that remotely involves winning a rosette.  I value my life too much.  However, if I thought I could skip the rosettes part and go straight into winning big prize money, I might just give it a try…

Over the years I’ve had my share of falls – this is a good thing for it means that I can recount them at every available opportunity.  Horse fall stories are rather like fisherman’s tales – it isn’t just the fish that get larger with every telling, so do the fences, gates and hedges where I met my comeuppance.  The story, for example, where I managed to fall off twice jumping a set of rails: the first time I got back on the horse and tried to jump them again  – only to land head first in the biggest pile of cow shit for 30 miles. No embellishments there but actually (and don’t tell anyone) the rails were really quite low.  I probably could have jumped them even if I hadn’t been on a horse.  The most irritating fall story of them all is the time I jumped a hedge to find rather a drop on the landing side. The horse stopped on landing and I sailed straight on, managing to do a double somersault before landing on my feet looking at the other riders jumping towards me.  Irritating because although accurately told no-one, apart from the few that witnessed it, believe it.

One way of ensuring numerous falls and a good way to stack up a whole wad of stories for future dinner parties is to take part in team chasing.  This is, for the uninitiated, where a team of usually four riders jump a cross country course at a hell-for-leather pace against the clock.  The time of the third rider to complete the course is the one that counts.  My partner has done this on numerous occasions but these days we are both happy to watch.

A good friend of ours who is a very successful saddler sponsored one of the classes at the Warwickshire Hunt Team Chase two Sunday’s ago and we were invited to join him and his partner for lunch.  I’m afraid to admit that like most events that include food and drink, I spent more time inside the marquee than on the actual course itself.

These sorts of occasions, rather like any other horse events, are very sociable for it is where a widely scattered country population can come together and meet up with old friends and neighbours and exchange news.  As I sat at the table pondering upon this and how traditional it is – for country gatherings haven’t really changed that much over the years – I also wondered if this was a worldwide  phenomena or whether it was yet another example of British eccentricty.  At that moment I noticed one of the guests was sitting at the table astride a pony  so I decided it must be the latter.  Ok, so the guest and the pony were very small but does that really matter?  Of course not, we wouldn’t have cared if it had been a 17 hands stallion (well, we might just, I suppose).

Once lunch was over it was time for the prize giving.  The team in pink,, who came second, were riding to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness.

 
 

You can see more photo’s of the day on my Facebook page – click the FB icon at the top right of this page to go there – and don’t forget to ‘like’ me at the same time!
 
 
 

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"The Most Beautiful English Village"

The tiny village of Bibury has long been recognised as one of the prettiest places in the Cotswolds and is much visited by tourists.  It is everything you might magine an old English village to be; so much so that some visitors, according to local gossip, not realising that it isn’t a theme park creation, walk into people’s homes to have a look around.

Ancient cottages in mellow Cotswold stone, a crystal clear, trout-filled river running alongside the main street, an old mill and a great pub offering food and accomodation all make Bibury “the most beautiful English village” as William Morris, the Arts and Crafts textile designer described it when he visited during the 1800’s.

The old cottages are so perfect and their setting so tranquil that they appear to have created an ethos amongst their owners: each house and garden has to be more well maintained than their neighbours.  The only weeds I saw there were across the river in the marsh and, of course, not only were they growing where they belong – in a wild setting – but there were only the most attractive ones such as Yellow Flags, the bog irises and the flat, white heads of the hogweeds.



No English village is complete without its church and pub and Bibury has both.  The church of St Mary’s dates back to the 12th century and is well worth seeking out for it is tucked away down one of Bibury’s few side streets.

 

If the church tries to remain hidden, no such claim can be made for The Swan, one of the landmark buildings situated on the bend where the road crosses the River Coln.  The creeper covered pub/hotel is a good place to watch the world go by although, rarely does a car go by without its occupants stopping to explore the village.  This is quite a problem for there are so many visitors and cars that to experience the tranquility of the place, or to get photographs such as those on this blog, you either need to stay overnight or to visit the village early in the day.  Looking at the online reviews for the Swan, I was amused to see that the only gripes were complaints about old furniture, no street lighting and no wifi or mobile phone signals – surely, some of the very best reasons for visiting!
 

 
It can almost be guaranteed that every calander of the Cotswolds will have a photograph of Arlington Row – probably on it’s front cover.  Set back away from the road, it is reached by a footbridge: a terrace of former 16th century weavers cottages which, in turn, were converted from a 13th century wool store.  The importance of wool in creating the wealth of the Cotswolds and its churches, including the development of the Cotswold breed of sheep, now endangered, has been described in earlier posts on this blog (click here).  For more on the Cotswold sheep and the work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust to preserve them, click here.
Arlington Row’s importance in history of vernacular architecture was recognised by the Royal Society of Arts in 1929 when they purchased and restored it.  A plaque, commemorating this is set into a nearby wall.

Exploring Arlington Row gives visitors an opportunity to see just how higgledy-piggledy the construction of old house are.  The old stone walls and mismatched rooflines and windows are juxtaposed seemingly at random – a modern planning departments nightmare.

Despite, the large numbers of tourists (for we all like to believe that we fall out of that category and will be the only persons there), Bibury is well worth making the effort to visit.  It is situated close to Cirencester, one of the most important Roman towns in the UK, with its wealth of history and it is also within easy reach of Oxford.  If I had to choose only one place to take a visitor to see, I think that Bibury would be highly placed on the list. 

Let me know – especially overseas readers, please – which would be the one place that epitomises old rural living in your country.

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