Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The Power of Guiting

Mrs von Neustadt and I and our collie dog Gänseblümchen von Neustadt are in the Gloucestershire village of Guiting Power where to our great good fortune our neighbours and dear friends RA and JF (not to mention their kiddywinks F and L) have a cottage of such exquisiteness that it, like, does my head in, man.

I cannot even attempt to describe my feelings on arriving at this place for fear of embarrassing myself and my more sensitive readers. We arrived, gaped at the beauty of the front of the cottage, then entered and walked right through and into the back garden and stood looking down across the fields to the little valley below. It is really very, very nice indeed here, and I had better leave it at that for now.

We're here because - well, we're here because we need a break, and because we've not been exactly organized about booking expensive holidays in the sun, and because the Fordhams, bless 'em, could let us use it this week, and their co-owner, bless 'er too, has decided to not be here this week. And so on. It dovetails well with the fact that our youngest daughter is in Oxford on what sounds like a very nice chamber music course: we dropped her off on Sunday along with a couple of friends from the schools symphony orchestra of our great capital city, and we will return on Saturday night for the end-of-course concert and to collect some or all of the same young persons. Our other daughters are in other places doing other things so, bizarrely and unusually, it is (in the words of the song) just the two of us.

It’s fantastic. It is not, I hasten to add, that I do not love my many children, merely that I also love the woman to whom I am married and the concept of Quality Time for the two of us has become a bit of a joke, to be met with a groan or cynical twitch of my cruel, sardonic lips, oops sorry wrong novel. So this situation makes a change.

On Sunday having arrived teatime-ish we unpacked from the car a few clothes and three tons of information technology (what is wrong with me?!) and then zoomed off up the valley for a short but excellent charge round Guiting Wood. There is a pretty path, much of it is inordinately pleasant, the dog was blissful, there’s a pretty manor house, sheep, trees – I’m good at this rural rustic country writing thing aren’t I – streams, a little bridge. Et cetera. You know. No one element is incredibly spectacular, it’s just that the whole thing is so lovely altogether.

On Monday we went off and did a walk I’d bought from the rather good Country Walking website. I love the mag and get it every month, and the Routes part of their site lets you track down walks by area, difficulty, yoghurt retailer proximity etc and buy them. You can, having coughed up, also download GPS data though the last time I tried to use this it was a farce. The jury’s still out on whether this was merely my incompetence or something a bit duff in their data plus my incompetence, or what. Another time Colin. (Oh yes, and the site has some free sample walks too.)

Anyway we did their walk ID 1991, aka “Poet’s Corner”, this being a reference to Adlestrop. The walk (starting at Kingham Station) goes through there and so did Edward Thomas on a not-meant-to-stop train in 1914, resulting in a rather well-known poem. This is a nine-mile (14.4km) walk classed as “moderate” and was quite good.

I’m saying “quite good” rather than “utterly wonderful” because it did have a couple of problems. One was too much road walking, which I hate and which is just no fun with the dog. On one stretch a succession of grim-faced car drivers passed us too close and too fast. I tried smiling and waving at a couple but it’s difficult for them, poor lambs, as you should simply not be walking there on a public road and delaying their journey by 0.24s and anyway they are many of them Thatcher’s Children and have been taught that no-one else matters, so they can’t really help it, and are unable to suppress their anger at your intrusive presence. The few people – mostly in less smart cars – who did wave and smile back receive my benediction, or would do if I had my hands free right now. The others – well, gosh, I hope no-one scratches their bodywork or anything.

The walk also spent too much time either on slightly boring very straight bridleway that kept threatening to become farm-track-with-traffic, or on very very smart land belonging to horsey places, where signs say things like “keep off the grass” (honestly!) in case you bruise it with your great clodhopping feet and you feel about as welcome as … something not very welcome.

On the other hand, he wrote hastily, not wanting to turn it too much into Moan-a-Blog™, other parts of the walk were simply lovely. Adlestrop was nice, and has very sweetly preserved the station sign and a GWR seat in a little shelter where a plaque also quotes the poem. A wooded part of the walk coming into Adlestrop was superb if over too fast; best of all, the last part of the walk was mostly “proper” footpath and bridleway walking, some of it right by the River Evenlode where we stopped for a lovely picnic and Daisy made eyes at the cheese sandwiches which squealed coyly in return. This was followed by a really nice, very muddy bridleway leaving the river and going through woods and fields, crossing an ex-railway which used to join the main line near Kingham, and a lovely little stream, a tributary of the Evenlode, in which Daisy spent a long time playing, drinking, and just lying down to cool off. Have I mentioned the weather was mostly pretty good? Well it was. So it was still a pretty good walk, and its clever author/designer had saved the best till last.

On the way home we stopped at Daylesford Farm Shop and its café. We had an exquisite cuppa and a ditto rhubarb tart, served by a lovely man once the languid blondes who mostly staff it had not bothered to serve us for a quite surprising length of time. (The web site says they are "delighted to serve you" so I guess they were just having an off-day.) I’d like to love this place, and in some ways I do recognize that it is truly beautiful, both shop and café, but it also made me feel a bit of a class warrior in a rather unwelcome way. Mrs von Neustadt with her usual economy of expression says that it is somewhat “up itself”. I have no idea what this coarse-sounding expression could possibly mean, but, yeah. Check out where they have other outlets – is it just me or … ? I will not be hurrying back, but I enjoyed my visit albeit in a slightly masochistic way. Good tea and tart though. Really.

On the other hand they do stock very nice stuff. We picked up truly delicious pork (oops, crack of thunder) sausages and a very very nice strawberry yoghurt, of which more elsewhere. Dinner that night was frankly a superior event. Ok yah. Yuh yuh. Super.

On Tuesday it tipped down with rain all day, which was a bit sad but not really something it’s realistic to moan about if you live in this country and not, say, Bermuda. We togged up and went across fields to Kineton where a nice local pint in a nice local pub acted as a salve to my (weather-induced?) depressive tendency. On the way there was something annoying and weird about the public footpath at/around Castlett Farm. I do tend to get over-tense about these issues (Mrs von Neustadt is somewhat more inclined to Go With The Flow, thank G*d) so I am not going to rabbit on about it here. It is probably fair to say, though, that rich landowners would mostly probably not like or trust me, with particular regard to public footpaths on their land, and that it may be mutual. Also before Kineton we met a nice lady with two lovely black labs called (ho ho) Widgeon and Quail. Widgeon was an older bitch, as it were, and disinclined to put up with nonsense from Daisy, who went somewhat quiet and thoughtful as a result.

We looped round out of Kineton to the northwest and got on a fantastic bridleway which led back to Guiting Wood. Again, yes, but from a different angle. We picked up a track we knew and came back home the already-familiar way. Wet, but very much better than staying cooped up.

Following that, last night we went out and had a very nice bar meal at the Hollow Bottom (I am not making this up) where Daisy was allowed to lurk under our table. It was still wet, indeed it really rained like mad while we were eating, but faired up a bit before we walked the short distance home.

It’s nice here!


  1. The Power of Guiting

  2. A Wednesday walk

  3. Strawberry Yoghurt - Daylesford Creamery organic yoghurt with strawberry compote

  4. A Thursday of Longwalkness

  5. Incidental moments of deliciousness

  6. Friday (mostly) in Oxford: a sort of Missed-the-Gig-a-Blog™

  7. A Cotswolds Saturday, another concert, and the road homeward

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