Monday, 15 October 2007

A Cotswolds Saturday, another concert, and the road homeward

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Events seem to have conspired to prevent me from finishing writing about our almost-week in the Cotswolds. I have a bit of a backlog-o-blog developing, with a number of topics I wanted to write about having to wait a while. This is exacerbated by my current rather horrid period of having too much to do. So, before I forget it entirely here's a quick(ish) summary of that last day.

There was, obviously, a fair degree of packing and cottage-fettling and so on but the main thing of interest while we were still based there and before the concert was (of course) going for a nice walk. For a change this was not from the excellent Country Walking magazine site, but from, a little personal site I'd found by accident while googling around for Guiting Power references. It offers "Country walks around the Malvern Hills and Cotswolds" and it does precisely what it says on the tin. We did Walk 9, "Naunton and Guiting Power".

It's a great walk and has excellent instructions which are very easy to follow: the author uses such detailed descriptions that ambiguity is pretty much absent and, as someone has commented, you could pretty much dispense with the map. Not that you actually would, I add hastily. But it's impressive that in theory you more or less could.

The walk as described on the web pages is a circular walk from Naunton, with Guiting Power at its farthest point. It causes no serious brain stress, however (even to me) to reorder it and start at the bottom of p2, sortafing, then wrap around as required. Ahem. Yes. (Admittedly I would probably rather have cut and pasted it, either on a Computing Device or in real life [yes Colin, actual scissors and glue!], but since this is not a "has Vogel actually got OCD or is he just a tw*t?" blogentity, let us hastily draw a convenient veil over that one and move on.)

  • The weather wasn't great. But hey - we were used to it by then. Past caring, walk-enjoyment unstoppable. Oh yes.
  • The walk was fantastic. Very little road and at that quiet, almost deserted.
  • It's great walking from the cottage: no driving. You start off up the side of that gorgeous church: what could be nicer?
  • There's a rather good stream/dam/pond/valley/thingy bit early on. The walk page talks about some phenomenon of being able to see the water above the dam's lip, but we didn't.
  • Nearer Naunton is a beautiful, green, partially wooded river valley: you walk along high up on one of its shoulders. It's exceedingly pleasant. It is pictured at the top of this entry.
  • Naunton is a pretty little village with a spectacular restored dovecote looked after by a community project to whom I would give 11/10 and a gold star. (In the walk description it's derelict but things have moved on since then, hurrah.)
  • One house there, appropriately between the church and the boozer, is called "The Old Band Room". This made me stop and think a bit.
  • Coming out of Naunton it's a lovely climb through fields and woods to an excellent bit with that sudden, open, "upland" feeling. Just great.
  • Towards the end of the walk the weather really was not kind so we had the picnic back at home, having failed to find anywhere sheltered enough to eat it.

Once we were back at the cottage and had lunched, there seemed to be very little time before we needed to leave for Oxford. Martha, you'll remember, was on a music course there and this was the last day, the evening concert and the collecting of kids, possessions and so on.

I bade this cottage an inordinately fond farewell: I'd very much enjoyed being there and having it as our base and sanctuary for a short week. It will be a long time before I forget the feeling of being out in its back garden for the first time. I will not go on about it too much or I will start weeping again like a Big Girlie chiz and you will have to shuffle your feet and look out of the window a lot. Let us therefore preserve your present image of me as a rough tough nutter hardman type, and not, as they say, go there.

So off we chugged to Oxford. The previous day, while there for Martha's lunchtime concert, we'd sussed out where there's a car park (Worcester St) close to the Wesley Memorial Church in New Inn Hall Street for this evening's concert, so we parked there. It's a bit crowded, even late in the day - Oxford has quite strong anti-car policies so there aren't ever that many spaces. There were people hanging around the car park: Deb ended up paying a young homeless man a, er, consultation fee for his advice on the (rather obtuse) payment system, and later on there were, it seemed to me, slightly less benign presences there too.

Anyway we parked up and left our precious cargo of computer, collie, trumpet etc to take its chances for a while. I wasn't ecstatically happy with this, as you'll probably imagine, but we reached a compromise which involved us having a quick dinner then me doing more dog-and-car minding and attending the concert's second half, and Deb seeing the whole concert.

We found a nice, quiet Italian restaurant and had a quick but very delicious pizza, then I walked Deb around to the church before strolling back to the car so Daisy and I could keep each other company. The car park was somewhat lively at times: lots of frustrated car drivers driving round and round (and round and round again) competing for the rare space as it became vacant; lots of noisy shouty people being shouty and noisy, possibly assisted by everyone's dear friend Dr Alcohol; and more disconcertingly some quiet creepy people just creeping quietly around.

I didn't actually enjoy my Worcester Road Car Park Experience™ all that much. (Oh, you guessed.) But I assure you that spending three or four hours worrying that the dog might not be there when we got back - absolutely one of my worst and most haunting childhood fears - would not have been all that great either. Vogels are not at their best under this particular flavour of stress. Mrs von Neustadt and I frequently have to, ahem, agree to differ in this area (as it is less messy than duelling pistols): basically Mrs von Neustadt feels that all is frequently for the almost best in this approximately OK of certain possible worlds, whereas, broadly speaking, I think there are monsters under the bed and they've got it in for us, and we need laser cannon, now.

I have once or twice intimated that she might perhaps have married someone a touch calmer and more relaxed. Or maybe, indeed, someone who is not actually a raving paranoid lunatic. But she just smiles enigmatically, possibly because she's not listening: who knows. Ah well.

Anyway, and yet again anyway, there were Daisy and I in the car on a fairly miserable evening so we did the obvious thing and went for a walk. As we left the car-park two young men were wandering round the cars, having a very careful look in each. Upholstery enthusiasts, I imagine.

This is in danger of becoming an essay so I'm afraid that we're back to bullet points. You know you love it really:

  • It turns out that Worcester Street car park is an excellent place to start a walk, particularly if you like canals.
  • I like canals.
  • Worcester Street car park is in fact a former canal basin: a not unserious lobby says it could and should be one again. I'd vote for that.
  • So it's just a skip and a sneeze across the road and you're suddenly walking on a canal towpath. Obviously the Hythe Bridge Arm that you're on is a cul-de-sac, and ever was and will be whether or not they restore the basin.
  • It is, however, exceedingly pleasant. It's all long-term narrowboat moorings. Some even have tiny gardens, miniature hedges and a few flowers.
  • Looking at the boats they seem to represent quite a wide spectrum from posh to not, but I thought the most common type was probably the slightly-hippy looking boat with home-made bits rather than the mega-smart fresh paintjob ones that look - and this is perhaps unfair - as if someone has won the lottery. The hippy-looking boats are instantly loveable and make the area feel lived-in and safe. To be honest, though, if I won the lottery I'd probably buy a super-dooper new one with all the trimmings.
  • We spoke to a nice, scruffy man off one of the more - ah - rustic-looking boats. He liked Daisy and she him.
  • It was horrible drizzly weather but a great walk.
  • After a while the arm meets, at a lock, what I think may be the main line, or nearly it.
  • It's quite a confusing area, with waterways seemingly in all directions. I think that you can get to the Thames from here (lots of signs with dire warnings about river conditions) as well as to the rest of the Oxford Canal. There seems to be another waterway of some sort next to you for ages. I'd need to see a map to follow it a bit better. I wonder if this attempted map will help. (Hmmm... sort-of.)
  • It is all very picturesque and there's a gorgeous diagonal iron bridge to let the arm's towpath join the main line (or something).
  • Whatever, it's a beautiful piece of metalwork and took me straight back to other canal experiences in my remote past.
  • There's one rather sad thing which is that a boatyard there was recently closed, over howls of protest, so that the site can be redeveloped. All you can see now is hoardings and a load of "no mooring" buoys. I don't know the local issues but the protestors' site is quite compelling. The depressing image they label "Welcome to Oxford" is pretty much how I saw it.
  • I am ashamed to say that till I took this walk I thought that the 0xford area "Jericho" was a Philip Pullman invention, part only of Lyra's Oxford, not this one. Oops.

And that's pretty much the walk. Very very nice indeed. After Daisy and I had chatted for a while longer it was time for me to brief her on the car-park's security situation and nip round the corner for the second half of the concert.

There I heard the whole group do a performance of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro which I thought very fine indeed. It's a fabulous piece anyway but they really did a great job on it. I was also lucky to hear Martha's quintet doing the Allegretto from Mozart's Bb quintet, K174, which I didn't know previously but really enjoyed. I probably ought to get/find a recording of it and yes, I freely admit that my knowledge of string chamber music is still shockingly limited. There were, of course, plenty of other quartets and quintets in the second half, with a wide and enjoyable variance in playing levels from Slightly Struggling to Really Pretty Serious. I don't want to go all Doting Parent on you but I will confess that I was proud that, had there been a pecking order, Martha's quintet would've been well up toward the upper end of it. She played beautifully.

I'd only been there for the second half of this concert but I was very impressed with what I'd seen and heard, and what Martha added later about how the course had been. I thought the approach and atmosphere excellent and Martha seems to have found it socially good too. I should try not to become nauseatingly dewy-eyed about international friendship, but, you know, that too. This sort of thing has played such a huge role in my life so naturally I enjoy it when I see all my kids reaping the same benefits. Next year's YMI, it being a transatlantic affair, is in San Francisco and I know that Martha is hoping to be asked. All good stuff.

Once the concert was over there wasn't much more to do. We went back to the school which was the course's base but it turned out that what we were driving home was the Royal Luggage rather than the Infanta Marfs herself. The latter had, along with some of her friends, done a deal for an extra night there at the school in exchange for help tidying up, and she was coming home by the Oxford Tube the next day. So Mrs von Neustadt and the Hound Gänseblümchen and I had a journey back which was rather quieter than expected. We'd had a truly excellent week in Guiting Power and had very much enjoyed the concert(s) in Oxford, and I drove home in cheerful mood.


  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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