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A Fellow Guide's Cotswold Tour

10th March 2021

My fellow Blue Badge guide Sean Callery
conducted colleagues on a Cotswold tour
in virtual reality from north
to south along the Cotswold Way. He said
the area was like a cheese in shape,
a wedge, and covered eight hundred square miles,
which was an apposite analogy
for countryside so agricultural. 

The tour subtitle might be 'sheep and stone',
said Sean over a bleating sound effect.
The Romans brought the sheep - or 'Cotswold lions' -
which couldn't jump and so the walls are low.
The walls comprise oolitic limestone which
is honey-coloured in the Cotswolds and
quite gentle on the eye, especially 
at Chipping Campden where the tour began.
Sean showed the market hall, built not for wool
but dairymen in sixteen twenty seven. 
It nearly emigrated in the war
when an American, well-meaning, tried
to buy it and thereby to save it from
the bombs. It's now owned by the National Trust.
And look, he said, a fire plaque just like 
the ones in London post-inferno. It 
said 'this house is insured' and so began
insurance as an industry, the richest
in the world today, all based around
a negative, on things not happening,
no product except peace of mind. The house
on which the fire plaque is fixed was once
the home of William Greville, greatest woollen
merchant, and the founder of the clan 
of Grevilles who became the Warwick Earls. 
He's buried in St James's church - St Mary's in 
his day - its style 'wool gothic' and its tombs 
like bales. The Ernest Wilson Garden fetes 
the plant collector born here and the fruit
he introduced, the Chinese Gooseberry
or Kiwi, cue a pic of hairy plums. 

Broadway next in 'ribbon plan' along 
its wide main thoroughfare. It has
a tower outside from which ten counties may
be visible. The Broadway Colony 
were artists in the nineteenth century
who loved the light here. Chief among them the 
American John Singer Sargent who 
created his Carnation Lily Lily 
Rose here on the grass at Farnham House. 
The same inspired RL Stevenson
to write A Children's Garden. Innocent 
Victorians. The Lygon Arms can trace
its history to thirteen twenty seven,
its coaching stables now a helipad. 

We come to Winchcombe which was in the news 
because a meteorite deposited
a lump of rock on someone's drive this March
when Sean was down to speak. How ominous.
There was a Saxon abbey here, its place
now taken by St Peter's Church which boasts 
delightful gargoyles. Just outside
is Sudeley Castle where the final queen 
of Henery the Eighth, young Catherine Parr,
is buried. Winchcombe has some lovely caffs.

Cheltenham developed as a spa 
resort to rival Bath with better gee-gee
racing. Pigeons drew attention to the salts,
the minerals, and they're depicted on
the old red phone booths. George the Third came for 
a cure just once, but people still go on
about it now. The royal visit brought 
investment and the regency is marked 
in ornate architecture - cue the sound
of masons chiselling the thirty two 
caryatids. Callery points out 
his favourite nomadic fountain which
relocates itself from time to time.

At Stroud five rivers meet and these were power 
once for weft machines in mills until
coal mining took all industry up north.
They still make tennis balls and green baize cloth
for billiard tables here although the use
of teasels to create the nap has gone. 
And how appropriate - the man who made
the lawn mower is commemorated here. 

We leave the Cotswold Way and now go east
to Tetbury, a good place for antiques.
For reasons no one knows including Sean,
you see a lot of dolphins here. He gives
a dozen explanations why they're seen
in masonry in iron and in wood
on doors and window sills with none of them 
conclusive. Every May, some runners heave 
a woolsack fifty pounds in weight on to 
their shoulders for the woolsack race between 
two pubs along a hight street, free of cars. 

We stop at Bibury [Bye-berry] which some say is 
the quintessential English village, its 
delightful terrace Arlington Row shown
inside the cover of the UK passport. 
These were weavers' cottages constructed 
thirteen eighty. Running through it is
the River Coln which washed the woven wool
before a drying process on the isle 
created by diverting half the stream. 
The Japanese have come since Hirohito
visited in nineteen twenty one - 
the emperor, I mean. He made the trip 
from Oxford where he'd watched the boat race. William 
Morris rated Bibury the best
example of the ancient manufacture 
Arts and Crafts folk idealised.

The last stop's Burford where a quarry is.
They'd take the stone to London on a barge.
The high street is exactly that: a hill, 
a steep one. Lions on a gatepost come 
from London's former parliament before 
it burnt: a quirky fact, Sean says. The church,
'wool gothic' once again, has bale-shaped tombs,
a font engraved by Levellers, a tale
of execution in the Civil War,
and finally the Tanfield tomb which has 
a plaque commemorating literature's 
first female playwright in Eliza Cary
whose The Tragedy of Mariam
was published in sixteen thirteen. Give her
a curtain call! Brava! Bravissima!

What of Mr Callery? He is
a Heart of England Blue Badge Guide since twenty
eighteen, author, teacher, journalist
and ukulele player. He teaches in
the primary school sector and his books
are educational. He's published nearly
seventy including one on science
which has sold two hundred thousand copies
in America. The Periodic
Table it is called. Instruct novitiates!
Quiz shows are big business in the States.