Sunday, 29 August 2010

A Restored Hunting Lodge in Gloucestershire

By:  Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

There’s an intriguing historic house in the South Cotswolds which has an incredible story, I wonder whether you can identify it, as I tell you how this building was saved from destruction, then opened to the public in 1984 as a visitor attraction.

The house, surrounded by 700 acres of park land, was originally a hunting lodge built in the 16th century. Over the years with additions and alterations the building was converted into a very fine house. In 1949 the house and land was gifted to the National Trust by a Mrs Power Clutterbuck as a memorial to her only son and heir James who was killed in action during the 1st World War.

Money to maintain the house was not available in those days so the property was let to a variety of tenants over the next few years to provide income for the Trust, but the upkeep was neglected and by 1970 the house was empty and in a very sad state.

The cost of repair was going to be so expensive that a decision was reached to take the roof off this very gloomy and ghostly empty building, make it uninhabitable, and leave it as a ruin on the landscape.

Fortunately, Robert Parsons, an American architect and lover of England’s historic buildings was keen to settle in England, and heard about the dilapidated house.

He met with the National Trust, negotiated a very tiny rent, signed a repairing lease and using his own money, time, energy and expertise, moved in and set about restoring the house and the 7 acres of gardens that once surrounded it.

The restoration work is really impressive and, if you haven’t already guessed, the place I’m talking about, is Newark Park, Ozleworth nr Wotton-Under-Edge. It’s now considered an important Cotswold architectural gem and has been given a grade 1 listing.

Robert Parsons who left us this great legacy, died a few years ago, but fortunately his friend and colleague, continues the work with as much commitment and dedication.

The house, now a lovely home, is very interesting. The views from the garden room are probably some of the finest in the county, with a 50 mile sweep from the Marlborough Downs in the east to the Mendips in the West. The landscape of Wiltshire and Somerset that can be seen from the window probably hasn’t altered much in hundreds of years, even the conurbation of Bristol is hidden behind trees and there are no blots on the landscape like roads and power lines to spoil the effect.

The rediscovered 18th century landscaped garden can be enjoyed complete with carp pond, 18th century summerhouse castle folly and carriage drive.

As well as the house and garden, there’s a picnic area beyond the car park. and there are 3 different walks through the surrounding parkland that link with the Cotswold Way. Newark Park is open for the season on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays from 11 o’clock in the morning and closes at 5 o’clock.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Cruise Along the Sharpness Canal, Gloucester

By:  Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett

Today I’m going to recommend a sightseeing trip down part of the Sharpness Canal from the Gloucester Waterways museum and back. The journey will be on an historic little ship, which played a very important part in evacuating the British Expeditionary Forces from the beaches of Dunkirk in France during the 2nd World War.

Looking at the pleasure boat with is seats and awning on the top deck and its saloon with tables and chairs below, is doesn’t seem possible that it was able to ply backwards and forwards across the English Channel. But, she was part of a hastily assembled flotilla of about 800 little ships called upon to rescue, in all, about 338,000 stranded British, French and Belgium soldiers from the harbour and beaches of Dunkirk between 27th May and 3rd June 1940.

Queen Boadicea II on its moorings
Called Queen Boadicea II she was built in 1936 as a river boat, operating between Greenwich and Westminster in London, then Kingswear and Dartmouth in Devon before being bought by the Waterways museum to work 74 years later here in Gloucester.

There are a variety of different cruises to take, but the one that my group and I enjoyed was one that operates at least three times daily throughout the summer until October. It’s 45 minute long and took us out of Gloucester Docks and along the Sharpness canal to a place called ‘2 mile bend’, a good turning point where we where able to see a new high level swing bridge built to take the new road, Gloucester’s South Western by pass over the canal.

The skipper told us that before the building of the Sharpness Canal small sailing ships used the River Severn to get to Gloucester but because of tides, sand banks, narrow channels and other hazards it could take 2 weeks to make the journey. A ship canal to bypass the river was started in 1793 but the company went bankrupt after 5 years with only 5 miles of canal having been built. 34 years later, with the help of the great engineer Thomas Telford, the Sharpness canal was finally completed, and when it opened it was the largest and deepest canal in the world.

The ship canal made Gloucester a very important trading centre in the 19th century and was a gateway for waterborne transport to the industrial Midlands. However, during the 20th century, more and more cargo was being transported by the railways, then later by roads and motorways. Warehouses and Industry dependant on the Sharpness canal fell into decline. Today there are big changes taking place alongside the canal and I do recommend a boat trip every now and again for an update on what is happening around Gloucester Docks.

The latest information I have on the departure times for the Queen Boadicea II is 12 0’clock, 1.30 and 2.30 in the afternoon. There are 80 seats on the boat, though it does get very full, and for £4.75 per adult and £3.50 for a child you get a very enjoyable trip as well as an interesting commentary by the Skipper.

For further information it is best to phone 01452 318200 which is the telephone number of the Gloucester Waterways museum.
A day that a replica of the historic ship
The Matthew visited Gloucester Docks

For guided walking tours of Gloucester Docks

For guided group coach tours around Gloucestershire


The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

By:  Blue Badge Tour Guide  - Anne Bartlett

The Rollright Stones, also known
as The Kings Men
Alongside a busy main road between Moreton-in-Marsh and Chipping Norton there's an ancient 100 foot stone circle known as the Rollright Stones.  They are somewhat hidden behind a hedge in a field, so you have to get out of your car and enter the field to be able to see them, and they are well worth a look. 

Archaeologists reckon that the stones date back to the Bronze Age  (somewhere between 5,500 and 3,500 years ago) and are part of an ancient religious site.

Although they are not as awesome as the Avebury circles and Stonehenge, its nevertheless a privilege to be able to view something as old and as meaningful to our ancestors as a religious site dating back approximately 2,000 years BC.

In a field on the opposite side of the road is a monolith or marker stone, now known as the King Stone, which would have been seen from the stone circle before the hedges were planted.  Also visible across the field from the stone circle, but some way away, is a group of 5 large stones leaning together labelled the Whispering Knights, these stones were probably part of a neolithic burial chamber used by the first farming communities to bury their dead.  I'm really impressed by the antiquity of the Rollright stones however prehistoric stones like these have always been linked  to witchcraft. 
The King Stone

As such, a variety of legends have developed over the years, one of which tells of a King who wanted to rule the whole of England.  When he arrived at this spot with his army he met a witch.  The witch seeing that he was an ambitious ruler thought that she would trick him.  She told him to take seven long strides and, 'If Long Compton though cans't see, King of England though shalt be.'
The Whispering Knights
The King, thinking that the witch was a silly old woman and that the challenge was very easy, strode out saying:  "Stick, stock, stone, as King of England I shall be known."  But when he took the seventh stride he still couldn't see Long Compton.  The witch cackled, "As Long Compton though canst not see, King of England though shalt not be.  Rise up stick, and stand still stone, for King of England though shalt be none.  Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and myself an Elden Tree".
A little further on and this is the view
of Long Compton today
Instantly he and his men were turned to stone.  The Whispering Knights who were some way off plotting to overthrow the king when he became ruler of all England, were also turned to stone.

There are a number of other stories but this is the best known one to explain the mystery of the stones being placed here.

For guided coach tours around the Cotswolds
Contact:  anne@tourandexplore

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A Cruise along the River Thames at Lechlade in Gloucestershire

By:  Blue Badge Tour guide - Anne Bartlett
Recorded for BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Saturday Breakfast Show with Tom Lowe

The other day we stopped in Lechlade and had a walk along the River Thames.  I was delighted to see that the Cotswold Canals Trust had started boat trips as far as Inglesham Lock to see the start of the derelict Thames and Severn Canal which, in the 19th century, linked the two great rivers of our country, so I was keen to have a look.
For Gloucestershire people the restoration of the Cotswold Canals is a major development with funding from the Heritage Lottery, the South West Regional Development Agency, The Cotswold Canals Trust and many hours of labour from keen volunteers.  A great deal of building work is happening at the moment in Stroud itself. 
I have taken a number of guided walks along parts of the tow path and seen some interesting canal architecture and enjoyed the countryside but in many places the canal banks are overgrown, the lock gates missing or broken and the canal basin empty of water, which is not surprising since it was abandoned about 50 years ago as the railways took trade away and delivered more cargo faster.
The Cotswold canals have a future and will be used by leisure boats rather than trading boats. The tow paths will provide enjoyable walks for all the family.  I recommend this half -hour boat trip, not only is it enjoyable but the money goes towards a very exciting project. For further information on the boat trips run by the Cotswold Canals Trust call 07787 485 294 or look at their website

For organised group guided  coach tours  around the East Cotswolds contact 

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire

An artists impression of Hailes Abbey
before its dissolution in 1539
A place which I find very special and interesting, are the ruins of Hailes Abbey between Winchcombe and Stanway in the north Cotswolds.

It was in 1242 when Richard Earl of Cornwall nearly drowned whilst crossing a stormy sea in a foundering ship on his voyage back from fighting in the Crusades.  He vowed that he would build an Abbey if he got back to England safely.

He kept his vow and was given land by his brother King Henry III and by the middle of the 13th century the Abbey buildings were well underway. The church and living quarters alongside, were for the Cistercian order of monks often known as white monks, because they wore habits of undyed wool.  Cistercian monks liked remote places away from all human contact, they were self sufficient, and farming was their means of survival.  At Hailes they were isolated and were able to devote their life to God.

However after the Abbey was built, Edmund, Earl Richard's son, bought a phial containing some of Christ's Blood. It had a guarantee that it was genuine from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who later became Pope.

A beautiful chapel and sacred shrine were built behind the high altar in the abbey church for the phial, and it was ceremoniously presented to the monks. The hugely important relic, known as the 'Holy Blood of Hailes' was to make the Abbey one of the great pilgrimage centres of England and many miracles were said to have taken place there.

In the 16th century Henry VIII became king of England

The Abbey along with many other religious houses around the country was destroyed in the 1530's on the orders of King Henry VIII.  The wealth and treasures at Hailes were appropriated for the Crown.  The phial of blood was tested and was proclaimed to be a fake.

King Henry VIII, having been excommunicated by the Pope in Rome over his divorce had made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England. He now had powerful enemies abroad and needed money quickly to build up his navy to fight wars on the continent.  He therefore sold a lot of monastic land which was bought by leading nobles and ambitious gentry who were keen to extend their family position and status.  There is a Kip's drawing of a magnificent house and formal gardens entitled 'Hailes Abbey the seat of the Lord Tracy'. All this has disappeared now but the beautifully maintained site around the foundations, remaining walls and arches are now in the care of English Heritage.

There's an interesting museum, and a free audio tour as well as information boards around the site.  You can take a picnic and spend the day there, or drive further up the road to Hailes fruit farm, where you can pick fresh fruit, shop or enjoy something to eat and drink in their cafe.
After an enjoyable time at Hailes Abbey we travelled to Stanway to look around the village and this is what we discovered...

Recycled stone - said to be from Hailes Abbey!

For group guided coach tours around the North Cotswolds see my website: