Saturday, 4 January 2014

Christmas in Cranford Lacock

We did very well without the fake snow and the weird filming at what was clearly the wrong time of year in the two slightly disappointing episodes following up the best of telly's classic series. Lacock in Wiltshire is the perfect fastness of our friends the Van der Beeks whose National Trust-owned home played host - most famously, in my life - to the diplo-mate's stupendous 50th birthday party. More people will know Lacock's ideal village as a suitable location for the Midlands setting of Elizabeth Gaskell's cosy women-rule-the-roost Cranford tales when they came to be adapted and interwoven by the Beeb (our hosts' residence, Cantax House, has also featured in the Harry Potter films, though don't ask me where as I've only ever half-watched one of them).

What we did have to negotiate on our Christmas Day walk was the fallout from the previous few days' floods. Fortunately there's been no building on the floodplain of the Avon and I understand the only badly affected house was an old mill. The water meadows did what they're supposed to do, looking quite a pretty sight both from Bowden Hill (up top) and as we approached Raybridge.

Down at the bridge pedestrians had the edge over cars, since the road was impassable. Not so the raised route for feet (and bicyles) only.

In the summer J and I went straight up the road, but Andrew led us on his preferred route along the banks of the local canal via a field that looks more northern France post-1914 than Wiltshire.

The Wilts and Berks Canal is a fascinating case of a disused waterway being brought back to life by active locals in recent decades.

It opened in 1810 to bring coal from south of Bath to the area, but with swift exhaustion of that resource fell into disuse and was abandoned in 1914, the final death-blow having been dealt by the collapse of an aqueduct 13 years earlier. Some of it still remains filled in, but our stretch was vigorously restored and includes the handsome Double Bridge (re)launched by Camilla, the canal trust's patron, in 2009.

Of course an ivy-covered ruin is more picturesque than this, but hopefully it will regain a weathered appearance within a few years. We were grateful for it, anyway, because a walker going in the opposite direction told us that the flooding meant we wouldn't be able to cross further up where Andrew had intended. We headed up a field with views of the rather ugly house in which Michael Tippett lived with Meirion Bowen for so many years. Half the field was in shade, and the night's frosts meant more pleasurable walking than the saturated ground we'd so far covered.

We crossed Nocketts Hill to Bowden Park, with views of Wyatt's 1796 house to our left and the floodplain below straight ahead. The high beeches on the top of the hill looked especially splendid in their skeletal outline.

Down to Bewley Court, and a wood full of birdsong (the mild winter so far means they're all out scrummaging), and then to the more famous of the two bridges near the Abbey, also closed to traffic. No walking across the meadows here for obvious reasons.


Sunset, and home to (eventually) a splendid goose

with sprouts and cavolo nero inter alia

to accompany.

Deborah's decorations were as original as you might expect from a true artist (scroll down this blog entry for shots of her exquisite bathroom muralling).

The hall collection of animal skulls was suitably feathered

or clementined, in which company our marzipan pig from the splendid new Swedish cafe Bagariet in Covent Garden seemed naturally at home.

The garden is still looking splendid in the dead of winter, especially as the mists began to burn away and steam rose from the bourne at 8.30 on Boxing Day morning.

The yew lady stands proud by the green castle.

Soon there was activity in the village which I hadn't bargained for - what else but the Boxing Day meet for the hunt.

My first experience of such a thing, and purely as pageantry it's handsome enough with the black and red ('pink'*) jackets, the horses' banded manes and tails and the occasional top-hatted, veiled, side-saddle dame. But investigate further and you unearth the social divide it represents.

They'll tell you that all sorts join the hunt, which of course under the ban means following a fake fox (or that's the idea). But the gulf became apparent when the Master of the Hunt exhorted us to give generously to the helpers' fund 'because we can't afford to pay them properly'. 'Rubbish', my now-lost-in-the-crowd companion tells me she shouted. And apparently there was a bit of aggression when one of the riders deliberately backed his horse into the group of erstwhile protesters.

Well, I don't like the idea of the fox torn to pieces, but I have to say there are far more important things to protest about. And the trouble with the more obsessive and violent objectors is that they care more about animals than human beings. On the other hand, the Countryside Alliance is made up mostly of self-interested conservatives. Never mind, it was fun to see, once at least.

Leaning against the wall of the great barn, it was warm in the sun. And the light was even more brilliant than on Christmas day, so J and I whiled away a pleasant hour around the (closed) Abbey.

We've visited several times, not least when my godson was six and gratifyingly identified a mortar and pestle as Baba-Yaga's flying machine in the Russian stories we'd been reading (still among his favourites). This time restricted to the walkways around the south and east facades, rounding the corner by the Renaissance tower of unscrupulous Sir William Sharington who bought the 13th century nunnery in 1540, a year after its dissolution.

The rather splendid oriel windows date from the time of the early 19th century Talbots, into whose family Sharington's niece had married (W H Fox Talbot famously pioneered the art of photography here). We sat on the bench beneath the biggest and basked in the sun.

After lunch, we were roused to join the family on a last walk close to dusk in a valley near Box.

Lichen on a beech stump contrasted with the fallen leaves of that fascinating-in-all-seasons tree.

An ascent brought us to a field of alpacas

and then on past a very fine group of farm buildings

to the park of a slightly sinister mock-Lacock Abbey (I didn't note the name), home to a charitable Lebanese foundation, with plenty of fine trees in its ground.

New Year we spent in the bosom of friends Jill, Susie and Michael back in North Norfolk. The weather was not, to put it mildly, amenable to any but the shortest walks this time, but apart from visits to more churches, including the extraordinary Binham Abbey which I need to cover here anon, we had one big compensation. As we were driving from Binham towards Hindringham on New Year's Eve, the pall lifted in the west for an unexpected sunset

and then to our left - a rainbow lit by the glow. Not just a strip, but a whole arch - and then a second: a full double rainbow.

I curse the fact that my camera battery needed recharging, but Jill and J rushed to get their iPads out of the boot, so these three treasurable pics courtesy of our valiant driver and Norfolk churches walks doyenne record the moment. Let it stand  as a symbol at least of a really wonderful 2013, whatever this year has in store.

*see comments below for the reason why.


Willym said...

As always your words and pictures captured the mood and occasions perfectly. Such glorious countryside so gloriously caught.

I had heard that the term Hunting Pinks is used because the preferred tailor of hunting jackets was Thomas Pink on Jermyn St. True or urban legend put forth by their marketing department?

Wish you and the dipolomate all happiness, good health - especially good heath - and if possible a bit of wealth in 2014.

David said...

Together the bloggers' league can solve any question. I stuck in the 'pink' only after J had read the piece and told me the jacket wasn't called 'red'. I said, of course it's red, but I'll put 'pink' in parantheses. And then along you come to provide the answer.

You are right. Fairly easily checked on Google, but I hadn't dreamed of doing so. An American firm selling nostalgic repros has this:

'Why is the traditional red hunting coat called a "pink"? the name derives not from the coat's color but from the name of the late 18th century London tailor who specialized in sewing the popular field coat. The coats made by Thomas Pink were of rain resistant scarlet cloth, tightly woven and durable enough to be immune to thorns and branches` on the chase. A Pink hunting coat was a mark of distinction in the 18th century, implying the wearer was a person of affluence and taste, and today the coat carries much of the same cachet.'

So there. The redcoats want to show they are the masters still. The beaters remain apart at table. Class distinctions are still alive in the good old English tradition, reminding those of us who milled around that we'd have been slaving for some of those on horseback a century ago. All part of the 'Downton' false nostalgia.

But on a cheerier note, I reciprocate your wishes to your retired diplo-mate and, of course, the (non-hunting) hounds from hell.

Anonymous said...

David, your always beautiful photos! Is the color of the lichen true? It appears other-worldly! And I suppose that your mention of frost on the field, just before the picture of blue-looking leaves, means that they aren't really blue. I would almost be ready to move there right away, if you had trees growing blue leaves!

Pink jacket: I think you may have seen the term before, and here is why. In "Brideshead Revisited," Charles compliments Sebastian on how nice he looks in his Pink jacket. For those of us who don't hunt, the term was odd and memorable and caused us to try to find out why he called it that, if possible. That was all before Google, of course, and not as easy to research, especially over here. I am long since transplanted to hunt country, and hereabouts there is a church offering an annual blessing of the hounds. They claim also to bless the fox, though the fox probably doesn't feel so. Your last post had quite an effect on me - especially the comments exchange, which continues growing, as recently as just yesterday.

I began by mulling over my resistance to Steinbeck (except for "Travels with Charley") but was quickly taken by David Damant's remark, and your response: "I should tell the world that you really do practise what you preach with the motto 'all God's chillun got wings'. I have seen you expostulating vehemently at behaviour, but never known you to kvetch about the person." So struck by the phrase, which I had not heard in a long time, and by the equally strong visual image it calls forth, I even had a dream about it. It really is a challenge, separating the outer behavior from the inner being. So now I can relegate the hunt to where it belongs, in your terms, "all part of the 'Downton' false nostalgia." It remains in its place in literature (thinking of "Downton," but moreover of "The Shooting Party") as the venue, even means, for important personal exchanges, where true character is revealed, and relationships are forged or altered. I am determined to continue being against the hunt, and to continue seeing the hunters in wings. -- Elizabeth

David said...

Complex chain of thought beautifully expressed again, Elizabeth. Living in the country must change perspectives - I have some left-wing friends who've been surprised at some of the unexpected alliances/friendships they've forged with 'the other side'.

As for colours, I promise you I didn't apply saturation to those two pics (of the lichen and the leaves). Sometimes I do if the basic hues seem false to what I saw, but this already seemed a step further from reality.

I'm assuming - maybe wrongly - that yours is the American version of church and hunt country? Does it differ, I wonder? There's such an entrenched sense of privilege in the country here, which I imagine is a bit more shaky/theatrical in the States.

David Damant said...

The amount of animal cruelty involved in the hunt ( before the change in the law) was very small - probably more cruelty exists in one abattoir than in all hunting. The moral case is that we should not take pleasure is pursuing an animal to death ( whereas when we eat the meat sent out of the abattoir we are not taking pleasure in the death itself....well, hmm, one can understand the vegetarian case) But country people have for centuries worked with nature and have a different and not necessarily incorrect moral outlook. I fully agree that there are more important things to protest against. And the RSPCA - spending vast legal fees on pursuing hunts that may have broken the law ( even the judge commented on this I think) - seems to have become unbalanced, especially for a national and "official" (royal) organisation

"All God's chillun" is a wonderful spiritual. It points to something far more important than the social differences at Downton Abbey - the terrible prison of slavery in the American South.

David said...

I'll admit my attitude on fox-hunting has only really shifted to 'don't care' since my far too belated activist sense was rekindled (only in the past couple of years). After all, it doesn't affect the vital need to, erm, save the planet. Violent reaction against is surely as parochial as the pastime itself.

wanderer said...

More glories from your camera to start the year but I must delay the reading and take to my bed cos early in the morning Debbie wings in. More anon. Happy New Year to you both.

David said...

The angel wings in: Himmel ueber Sydney. It's at times like this I wish I 'did' Skype so I could see you all together. Well, what larks you'll have. Do you get to go to her concert?

wanderer said...

Yes of course. Dido in the Bath. There's swimming or the like. She sings Belinda. Airport calling. Glorious weeks of weather replaced by showers.

wanderer said...

More on Dido here.

Susan Scheid said...

This is all so glorious. I've been feeling more than a little glum with the bitter cold here, so it's good to see something else. Of course the extreme wet is not fun either--and your comparison to a desolate WWI battlefield is more than a little apt--but still, there is so much beauty here, not to mention a sumptuous feast.

David said...

Well, wanderer, the programme is certainly eclectic, if a bit relentlessly trendy (wot, no room for a string quartet or a song recital?) I'd like to hear the Malian duo. Don't know Sasha Waltz's work.

It's glum and grey and wet here, Sue - what was supposed to be the most lowering day of the year (6 Jan) certainly did (or didn't do) its stuff outside. We've been trying to set aside a few more days for walks, but were rained off on each occasion. Will keep trying on free weekends.

David Damant said...

Some authorities describe Belinda as Dido's lady-in-waiting; others add that she was also Dido's sister. If sister, the whole plot begins to look sinister ("Pursue thy conquest Love" etc)- for who will rule Carthage after Dido's death or departure?