Saturday, 18 December 2010

Wear Wool

How do they do it?  It reached minus ten last night and is snowing hard this morning, but still the sheep seem to be serenely unperturbed.  I follow suit and wear a great deal of wool in this weather, and it really is the best thing.  I can remember the 'polar fleece' revolution of the 1980s, when wool became unfashionable and was generally replaced by fluffy man made fleeces.  However, wool has experienced a comeback of late and if you want to wear something warm, durable, attractive and environmentally friendly do what the sheep do!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Fieldfare

An apple tree in a very weak winter sun.
I walked into an orchard yesterday and it exploded in a chuckling, chattering grey mass of fieldfares.  This highly sociable thrush comes to these shores from Scandinavia during the autumn and feeds on berries.  This year they probably feasted on our berries, but I've already bored you with the super abundance of hedgerow fruits this year!  If you walk or drive down the lanes the fieldfares burst from the hedgerows in alarm and are a marvelous spectacle which would cheer anyone up. 

The local name for them is 'felts' and they seem to come here in great numbers, albeit they are on the RSPB's red list.  I expect they were in the orchard feeding on the windfall apples, which must be rather sugary by now have been frozen and thawed so many times over the last few weeks. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Indian Wrestling

Today an Indian family came into the shop.  They were very interesting people and I was amazed by how many languages they spoke, each having six to eight in total.  Along with Hindi and English they also spoke two or three local languages and two or three regional languages!  I've always wanted to go to India and find the sub-continent's culture and history fascinating.

I asked the family about Indian wrestling and the men were big fans.  Indian wrestling appears to be a great sport and training for it is arduous.  Over the last couple of years I have employed some of the exercises used in Indian wrestling, namely the dand [aka Hindhu press-up] and the bethak [aka Hindhu squat] .  I've also acquired an Indian mace,or Gada, which is good fun to use if a little exhausting.  Despite this I've never tried the wrestling itself and would probably last a few seconds against even the most junior of opponents.

Meeting so many people from all over the world in this one little village gives me a real thrill, so long may it last!

My Gada.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Old Man's Beard

Old Man's Beard, or clematis vitalba, always looks so contrasting to the sparse brown hedgerows that it trails over, with its silky, round whiteness.  I took these snaps in between Bibury and Ready Token on a place called Shagborough Bank, which is covered in an almost impenetrable mass of shrubs and brambles.  Shagborough Bank is a great name, don't you think? 

Old Man's Beard is a type of clematis, which are surprisingly members of the same family as the buttercup, and can grow up to forty foot in length.  It always reminds me of cotton plants that I have seen in photographs and I wonder if it has ever been used for its softness?  Next time I go out I will take a cushion cover and stuff it full of Old Man's Beard and see if it is any good for soft furnishings.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Roman Rust

On yesterday's walk I came across a rather plain rusty iron, six bar gate that reminded me of Roman armour.  It is now thought that on a long campaign the legionaries would let their armour rust a little and then rub it with some oil.  This would have created a solid rust and iron patina that would protect the iron underneath from further corrosion.  The shiny 'lorica segmantata' [the armoured segmented tunic] seen on films, such as Gladiator, would only have been seen where the legionary had the time to clean and polish the armour.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Village Lock Up

Prior to the 1839 County Police Act, sometimes known as the Rural Police Act, most villages of any size had a 'lock up', where law breakers could be detained prior to a court appearance.  The Act allowed for the appointment of a professional police constable, rather than the part time Parish constable, to be employed 'for the preservation of the peace and protection of the inhabitants'.  It also stipulated that a police house had to be constructed, along with appropriate cell accommodation.  The Old Police House is up on the Cirencester road in Arlington and looks as if it was built around the time of the Act.  However, the photo above is of the lock up.  It must have been a grim place to have spent anytime at all, never mind a cold winter's night.  The only window is a very small one to the rear which is heavily barred and the door is hugely thick and riveted.  It looks a little unloved at the moment, but it would be fascinating to find out who has languished within and why they were there!

The rear, and only, window.  Along with modern fag ends.

A great old oak door.  Imagine that slamming behind you!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Brown Trout

The cold clear weather has brought the brown trout out.  For a few weeks they have been lying low in the deeper waters, but now with the brighter, drier weather they are basking in the shallows.  Life must be good for a brown trout in the Coln as some of them seem to reach excellent sizes.  The one in the photograph above must be around the 3lb mark and it was fixed to the spot for ages in the fast flowing water, which must take considerable effort.  Perhaps it is waiting for food, in the form of insects, to float down or to settle on the surface, or maybe they find it relaxing just to swim slowly against the current.  I'll nip out at lunch time and see if it is still there.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Sloes and Berries

It occurred to me yesterday that the hedgerows may be at their best at this time of year.  In spring they are bursting with life and movement, but at this time of year they have a much calmer beauty.  The above is a snap of woodbine berries amongst some sloes, which really caught my eye.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Feeding the Ducks

Bibury could be called the wedding capital of the Cotswolds.  A sort of Las Vegas in limestone.  There can be up to ten weddings in a weekend here so we become very used to wedding parties parading through the village.  It certainly cheers me up seeing so many well dressed people enjoying themselves.  The couple in the photograph above were married this morning and had a photo call on the medieval clapper bridge which leads to Arlington Row.  The were asked by their photographer to feed the ducks.  He supplied several loaves of bread until he had enough shots and I think even the greediest of ducks was quite full.

I've just sold a bookmark and four Bibury coasters to a couple of Rome.  When they said where they were from Rome I thanked them for building some of the roads around here.  It just slipped out.  They were amused and I think secretly pleased!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Mysterious Stone...

This big chunk of limestone is laid into the verge by the road that goes through the hamlet of Ready Token, which is about 2 miles from Bibury.  The road is the old Roman road of Akeman Street which linked the Fosse Way with Watling Street.  No one knows why the stone is there, but some people say that it was ploughed up and then removed to the verge so it would no longer interfere with cultivation.  I think that it looks too 'worked' for this to have been the case.  It is not a milestone as the ones on this section of the road are remarkably complete and this is not one of them.  Perhaps it was part of the old Roman road's construction?  In any case it's a big old thing and I'm sure it will be there fore many years to come.  

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Game Holes

I've always been intrigued by the little game holes in Cotswold stone walls.  There are many in the stone walls around the village and their primary purpose was to allow grey partridge to travel from field to field.  Being a ground bird the partridge tend to walk in flocks, or coveys, as they feed and are well camouflaged in the grass, stubble or crop.  If they were forced to jump over the walls they would become easy prey.  The hole in the wall therefore allowed them safe passage from field to field. 

The grey partridge was once very abundant, but numbers declined to critical levels post WWII due to the use of pesticides, herbicides and the removal of hedgerows.  However, they are making a small comeback and some farmers are now encouraging them to thrive once more.

Frost and Fog

The village is swathed in fog this morning and Jack Frost is also nipping hard. The place is deserted apart from myself and a couple from Melbourne, Australia who are frustrated at the lack of unmurky photo opportunities. Being an early riser I have noticed on frosty mornings that it is relatively warm first thing in the day and that it only becomes really cold when the sun rises. This seems a bit of a paradox, but I'm sure that there is a rational explanation.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Competition.......

Below is a fruit which is ready to pick at this time of year.  There is a tree near the Square which is full of them.  But what is the name of the fruit?  The winning answer will be drawn on Saturday 18th December and the prize will be a Bibury worktop protector [the one with the brown trout and the rainbow trout] which will be sent to the winner completely free!  Please email any answers to with the address you would like the prize to be sent to - Good Luck!!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Old Map

The rain is teeming down outside and the cars are sploshing down the road.  The shop is very quiet at this time of year and it has given me time to study an old map of the village which was hand drawn in 1769.  The copy I have was kindly given to me by a friend, who procured it from the County Records Office.  The one thing that is most striking about the map is how few buildings there were in the village at the time.  The Church [of course], the Bibury Court, Arlington Mill and Arlington Manor are the most prominent ones and then there are a few cottages scattered here and there.  Arlington Green was then a collection of four or five houses and seems very different from the hotch potch of cottages that it became in later years.  It makes me realise how busy the village was during the last part of the eighteenth century, when most of the village seems to have been constructed.  It appears that the village boomed during these years of the Agricultural Revolution and it must have been a noisy, bustling place and far from the rural idyll that we often project onto the past. 

The rain clears at last.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cider Making

My cider making season ends soon and what a productive one it has been!  I estimate that I have made nearly twenty gallons which should be ready for drinking around Christmas time.  There are four different types of apple; dessert, culinary, cider and general purpose.  Gloucestershire has hundreds of different varieties of apples which range over the four different apple types.  Many villages have their own specific variety which historically was put to one use or another.  Some colourful examples are Arlingham Schoolboys, Bastard Underleaf, Hagloe Crab and Hens Turd.  The latter is from the village of Rodley and the origins of its name are a mystery. 

Although we have loads of apples here in Bibury there does not appear to be one specific local variety and the closest ones appear to be the Ampney Red [from the village of Ampney Crucis being around 3 miles away] and the Siddington Russett [which is about 6 miles away].   Both of these are dessert apples.  I wish I could report on the 'Bibury Bastard' or even the 'Arlington Crab', but alas no. 

This part of the county does not appear to have been historically a cider making area.   Cider making was a very important part of the rural economy, in most areas, up until the First World War.  Each farm would have had its own cider mill and press and for much of the 18th and 19th centuries farm workers would have received part of their pay in cider. 

Due to the apparent lack of cider making locally, I am unable to find any cider apples and make do with a mixture of Bramley's [culinary], dessert apples and crab apples.  The latter are found in hedgerows and are a close relation to the cider apple being high in tannins and acids, both of which are crucial for a good cider.  The dessert apples add the all important sugar which is fermented into alcohol during the cider making process.  I have sourced these from two derelict orchards near to the Church which are full of different varieties and must have been glorious in their prime.

If you are interested in Gloucestershire apples then please go to the Gloucestershire Orchard Group website which is an excellent organisation.  If you are visiting the Cotswolds then an afternoon spent in the Severn Vale part of the county would be time well spent.  Only half an hour away from here and a fascinating place.  If you would like a glass of my cider then call into the shop around Christmas time and you will be more than welcome to have one.  Cheers!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hawthorn Berries

This autumn there has been an abundance of hawthorn berries.  These little red berries have long been a part of English folk lore and country tradtion.  There are several old sayings which relate to the haw:  'when all fruit falls, welcome haws' is one that I especially like as they do make a particularly good wine.  Last year's haw wine is now ready to drink and the flavour encapsulates all that is good about the hedgerow. 

Another medieval saying regarding the haw which fills me with foreboding is 'many haws, many snaws'.  If this one holds true then we are in for a bumper crop of snow this winter.  A lovely family from Finland, where they really do have cold weather, came in to the shop last week, and for some reason we chatted about windows.  Apparently, in Finland it is illegal to have anything other than quadruple glazed windows.  I explained that here in Bibury, where most of the buildings enjoy Listed status, it is illegal to have anything other than single glazed windows.  Better get some logs in then!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Thirsty Work for an Old Steam Engine.

This wonderful old steam engine stopped in front of the shop to take on fresh supplies of water from the river.  It took around fifteen minutes to fill the tank and then it very slowly pulled away again.  More of a great beast than a machine it was obviously much loved and cared for by its operatives.  The Korean ladies in the photo below were quite smitten by it.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Another go at Blogging....

Now it's autumn here I've decided to overcome my blog phobia and have another crack at it.  Things have quitened down here somewhat since the summer so I'm going to adopt a policy of 'little and often'.  The website has been hacked into and vandalised.  The hacker took a particular dislike to the little teddy bears which I rank as heinous cyber crime.  So I'm in the process of repairing the site and adding more gifts to it.  Wish me luck!

On a different tack I have noticed that the grass around the river banks is often streaked with a silvery deposit.  I have worked out that this is heron poo.  As they take flight from a morning's fishing they almost always emit a long streak of sparkling deposit.  On closer inspection the poo is entirely composed of fish scales which contrasts vividly with the lush green grass. 

The herons are numerous on the River Coln and they have been joined recently by their cousins the egrets.  They are small, white herons which I think originate in the Med' and the Middle East.  Apparently they started colonising these islands in 1986 and have bred successfully since then.  Being a non-native {I can't spell indigenous} species I wonder if they have had an adverse affect on any native species? 

Anyway, I am trying to sell these toughened glass work top protectors at the moment with little success.  They have a coloured drawing of a brown trout, which is indijinous, and one of a rainbow trout, which is non-endegenus, and the word 'Bibury' in the middle.  I like them and will soon put them on the website [when I work out how to].  In the meantime if anyone wants one for a fiver then please email me.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Japanese and English

Here in Bibury we have Japanese people visiting on most days of the year.  The Japanese love the Cotswolds, and in particular Bibury.  Some say it is because Emperor Hirohito came here when a Prince during the first half of the last century, and on his return home became a fervent advocate of the area.  Other people say that a very famous Japanese artist [no one knows his name] came to Bibury in the 1970s and that the area formed the basis for much of his work from then on.

Accordingly, I have made a little effort to learn a little Japanese.  I can do the basic greetings, the numbers and a few other fairly simple things.  It has been tough going as English and Japanese do not have any words in common, or so I thought.  I have had to learn each word very slowly.  Yesterday, a Japanese gentleman bought a little tub of local ice cream.  The ice cream is fantastic and produced on a farm near Northleach, around six miles away from Bibury.  It comes in small tubs with a small plastic spoon secreted under the lid.  When I placed the tub of ice cream on the counter I could tell that the chap was wondering if there was a spoon available so I launched into a ham fisted attempt in Japanese to explain where it was:  'Asoko des spoon'.  Or 'there is spoon'.  Much to my amazement he understood what I meant and then went on to explain in near perfect English that the Japanese use the same words as we do for a 'spoon' and a 'fork'.  I was over joyed by the fact that here were two words that I did not have to learn.  I asked him if we share the same words for chop stick. We don't.

Incidentally, I was told this morning that the symbolic bird of Tokyo is a kingfisher, where apparently they are in abundance.  We have several of these beautiful birds on the river in front of the shop.  Maybe that's another reason why the Japanese like it here so much.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Otter Update

The otters previously mentioned are apparently owned by a lady who rescues baby otters.  The Trout Farm supply them with food in the form of trout that are deemed to be unfit for human consumption.  For example, if a fish is found to have died over night then it is only suitable for otter food or the bin.  The trout farm also supply fish to the otters at Slimbridge.  Incidentally, these local otters are the same ones that were in the Harry Potter film.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Good and bad news

I hear that the American signal crayfish is a few miles away at Coln St Denis and rapidly traveling towards us. These voracious interlopers eat everything and leave nothing for the indigenous river life. However, they are easy to catch and taste very good. So probably good news for otters and adventurous barbecuers. We shall soon see what effect they have on the river.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Otter day trip

On the topic of the return of wildlife, whilst walking past the trout farm the other day I noticed a lady with a car full of otters. I wish I'd asked where she was going with them. A few guesses:

1. Is it possible to hunt mink with a pack of otters? That avoids the ban on hunting with dogs.

2. A trip to the trout farm with a family of otters would be a big hit. But how does someone get in a position to treat otters? (And you'd get banned from the farm pretty quickly.)

3. Perhaps then it was a day trip from the otter refuge (but isn't there a risk they'll run away?)

4. Weren't there otter noses for sale in the stadium in Life of Brian? And there's an ice cream van parked up nearby. Leave that one there.

5. Travelling otter circus uses unmarked car.

I really wish I'd asked.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Vole questing

I've noticed the village has got a new attraction (most of the attractions round here are very old, so it really is news). Increasingly, people are visiting the village on water vole-spotting tours.

Apparently there are two colonies of voles: one is located directly in front of the shop, nestled beneath the fourteenth-century 'clapper' bridge, and the other is upstream in front of the Swan Hotel.

When people come into the shop and say they've seen a water vole I can't help asking them if they're sure that it wasn't a rat. It appears that people can be divided into two camps: those who see a small rodent in the river and call it a vole and those who see a small rodent in the river and call it a rat. Sort of half-a-glass full versus half-a-glass empty.

Sad to admit, I'm in the latter camp although I am told that these two colonies are in fact voles. They were nearly driven to exctinction by the mink which now itself has been eradicated, partly by another returnee, the otter. Leaving rats, sorry voles, aside, otters back and mink gone: even a half-glass empty sort of person like me is cheered by that.

Water Voles versus Rats: How to Tell the Difference
(or is it all in the eye of the beholder?)


Hello there and welcome to my blog.

I thought I'd set it up so I can share the various bits and bobs that occur to me whilst I'm working away in my shop, often looking dreamily out onto a stream and some cottages, one of the nicer bits of what is reputedly one of the most beautiful villages in England.

Through my post office counter I interact with most of the people who live around here. Through my shop, which sells gifts and refreshments, I get to meet a lot of the tourists who come to Bibury from all over the world. When I'm not working here I'm at my farm just upstream from the village, where I keep sheep along with a few chickens, a veg garden, a couple of dogs and a cat. And last but most importantly I have a lovely wife and two little girls.

Which is all by way of introducing myself as well as letting you know what sort of topics you can expect to find here. Other than that I've no idea what I'll post and even less idea whether it will interest anyone. But here goes anyway!