Showing posts from 2012

On your marks, get set .... duck! The Bibury Duck Race, 2012

One of the highlights of the year in Bibury is the annual Boxing Day Duck Race. In practice, this takes the form of two races: the first involves plastic decoy ducks, and the second the sort of yellow rubber ducks that you put in your bath. Well, perhaps not in your bath, but you know what I mean.
The river that flows through Bibury is the Coln, a typically fast flowing chalk stream. Yesterday, thanks to weeks of rain, the Coln was at its highest-ever recorded level, so the yellow rubber duck race was abandoned. There were fears that hundreds of little ducks would jam what space was left underneath the bridge, causing the river to overflow into the neighbouring cottages.
The local cricket club organises the race, and by 10.30am yesterday morning, there was a long queue to sponsor the decoy ducks. For £10, you had the chance of winning £100, or a bottle of champagne or whisky. The sponsor of the winning duck could also choose which charity would benefit from the money raised.

This is T…

A little light reading

When you give up your office job, as I have, you expect somehow to be restored to miraculous vigor and to have enough energy simultaneously to prune the garden and decorate the house. This doesn't happen. The removal of the routine of work, you will find, also removes the routine of rest.
"I'm not doing anything," you think, "so why am I always so knackered?" It's because you are probably pottering around non-stop, and pottering - particularly if it involves unpacking and putting away, and the installation of various lights/curtains/bookshelves/bits of furniture - can be very tiring if you are doing it all day long.
You need to establish a new timetable with clearly marked breaks, where you sit down with a book or watch Judge Judy or just stare into space. My own preference is to sit down with a book, because much as I love Judge Judy, I feel guilty about watching daytime television. In any case, daytime television does not, in my opinion, include enoug…

Comings and goings at Awkward Hill

The sweep came back to Awkward Hill on Friday, to clean the other chimney ready for the arrival of a second wood-burning stove for the study. This was a thrilling moment for me - I love seeing the brush emerge from the chimney and rushed outside like a big kid to take a picture.

The new stove has made the prospect of sitting down at the computer more bearable, because for the first time since I moved in, the study seems warm and inviting. It has two outside walls, and three big windows, so it needs something a bit more radical than just one measly radiator. But like the rest of the house, now it has warmed up, it seems to retain the heat quite well.

Talking of heating, the new range also arrived. This was another moment of great drama - it is cast iron, so it took quite a lot of skill and muscle to get it off the truck and into the kitchen. The range provides hot water and central heating (oil-fired) and is also what we cook on. With this model, you can have the heating and hot water…

Chill December

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire and Christmas treat.

(English nursery rhyme)

It's the first day of December, and as if to mark the day, the weather has obliged with a thick frost and bright sunshine. I can't believe that only a few weeks ago, I viewed the cottage in the heat of a late summer day.
Despite all the chores that moving house dictates - the unpacking, the fixing of shelves and changing of lights, the frequent trips to B&Q, the daily discoveries (oh, is that where that screwdriver/knife/breadbin/chair/bookcase went!) - I've managed to do a bit of sorting out in the garden. In weather like this, it seems a crime not to be outside.
I put up bird feeders yesterday, and this morning, there was a bustle of small birds who were obviously delighted by the December bonus. The tits, I find, are always the first to discover the feeders, and a robin has been taking a proprietorial interest in the proceedings, but it will be interesting to see what else turns up…

Chim chiminey, chim-chim che-ree

Now, before I had my woodburning stove installed, I had to have the chimney swept so that it was all nice and clean. I'd made an appointment a few weeks ago, because at this time of year, as you can imagine, sweeps tend to be quite busy.
The day came for the appointment, which I had carefully inscribed in my diary. No chimney sweep. Oh well, I thought, I'll try another sweep. It's quite common, in London, for tradesmen not to turn up - they get stuck in traffic or on the previous job. You just shrug philosophically and phone someone else.
I phoned another sweep, and a very friendly lady answered. I explained that the sweep I had booked had not turned up. Could they do my chimney by Thursday - two days away? No, she said, she was very sorry but they were fully booked. Who was the sweep who had failed to turn up, she asked? I told her.
I rang the next sweep on the list and left a message, saying that someone had let me down and I needed to have my chimney swept by Thursday. …

Whatever the weather...

Since I moved to Bibury, the weather has alternated between torrential rain, howling gales and fog, with the occasional glimpse of sunshine, usually in late afternoon when I am driving due west.
I enjoy weather. I love watching storms, I don't mind being out in the rain (as long as I'm not on my way to work, or some event at which I have to look smart), and the first snow of winter still seems as magical as it did when I was a child.
In the country, however, you are far more aware of the power of the weather and its ability to wreak havoc frighteningly quickly. Here's the entrance to Bibury Trout Farm, on the River Coln, which runs through the centre of the village. In summer, the "dimpling stream runs laughing by", as William Blake put it. Today, swollen by days of endless rain, it was a ferocious torrent, submerging the footbridge that leads to the shop where I buy my newspaper.

The other day I had to drive my daughter back to Bristol University, a fairly easy …

The first week in Bibury

I got up early this morning, mainly to put out the rubbish. We didn't have such stringent recycling regulations in London, so I felt that I needed - like any true journalist - the pressure of a deadline in order to get my head around which sort of waste went in which sort of container. And the rubbish is put out before 7am.
Thus it was that I was able to capture the dawn coming up over Awkward Hill, and the mist rising off the meadow. You could tell it was going to be a beautiful day.

It's been a busy week. Moving house is always a stressful business, and however well you think you have planned ahead, there never seems to be enough space for all your stuff. Another law of moving is that all the boxes that contain things you use least often are always the boxes that are closest to hand. However, you can't get away with just carting them off to the garage or the shed, because there is always a chance that some helpful person will have tossed in the tin opener, or the dishclo…

Dreams, designs, and dangerous women

"I am so longing to read about you starting a new garden. Wonderful to see the concepts and ideas developing, happening and growing. What lurked in your mind, unsuited to a completed London garden, that you can now tackle with aplomb, delight and joy?"
Diana of Elephant's Eye, who has been a long-term blogging friend, posted this comment on my last post. She's absolutely right. Things do lurk in your mind. They are filed away for future reference, until one day you pull the idea out, blow the dust off it and see that, yes, this is the time to put it into action.
Just because your garden has a particular style, often dictated by its aspect, its soil type, the local climate and so on, doesn't mean that you can't appreciate a completely different style.
I have a fairly clear concept in mind for my new garden. The actual landscaping may turn out to be slightly different from my current mental picture, but the style will be the same. I want something that echoes the s…

So, Awkward Hill...

It's a strange name, isn't it? Awkward Hill is a very steep hill, rising abruptly from the River Coln. You can quite see why it's called "Awkward" - it's a sort of blip or bump right in the middle of Bibury.
If you go down the other side, the lane is called Hawkers Hill, as in hawker, or pedlar. I keep meaning to look into this, to discover whether Hawkers Hill is a corruption of Awkward Hill, or whether Awkward Hill is a corruption of Hawkers Hill.
If anyone knows where the name comes from, I'd love to hear from you. When I decided to move to Bibury, my family thought the name was hilarious. It was even suggested that I use the blogging name Awkward Cow. But I think not.

Local heroes

One of the things I want to do in my new life is to use local producers as much as possible. If you live in the country, it seems mad not to buy from the people on your doorstep, especially when some of them are producing wonderful things, whether it is cheese or gingham checks.

I came across the textile designs of Vanessa Arbuthnott (above) while looking for a shepherd's hut. (My mother wants to buy a shepherd's hut for my garden, where she will sleep when she comes to stay. But that's a whole other post!)
Vanessa's designs were featured on the Cotswold Shepherds Huts site, and I was thrilled to find a range of fabrics that used such clever colour combinations and subtle designs. I've never been a very chintzy person, but I wanted something for Awkward Hill that was more in keeping with a country cottage than the more austere colour scheme I had in London. I think Vanessa's designs complement the colours of the Cotswolds perfectly.
I'd discovered, thanks t…

The Japanese question

The first thing you do when you buy a house in the UK is to have a survey done, to check that there are no structural problems such as subsidence, or damp, or dry rot, or anything else untoward.
I've had many of these done over the years, but I've never had one that mentioned Japanese tourists as a possible hazard!
Under the heading "Environmental issues to check and other considerations", my surveyor notes: "Bibury is very popular with tourists (especially Japanese, who often wander around the village peering into houses and gardens).
This is absolutely true - indeed, many of the houses on the main street, down by the river where the tourists tend to congregate, have signs in Japanese which (I assume) say things like "Private".
"They're always very polite," said my surveyor, "and all they want to do is to take photographs, but they do tend to assume that the entire village is one big historical attraction."
The only access to m…

BBC in Bibury (from the archives)

I found this old video from the Day Out series, presented by Angela Rippon. This episode looks at the South East Cotswolds and features Bibury, along with Northleach and Fairford.
There's one about Cirencester too, with a different presenter.

Counting down the days

I am itching, absolutely itching to move into my new house. We haven't even exchanged contracts yet (there's no great delay or problem as far as I know, so it should be any day now), but although I tell myself that in a few weeks I will have all the time in the world to measure for curtains, think about the garden, rejig the kitchen and arrange the furniture and so on, I want to do it all NOW!
It's funny how you can make a connection with a house after seeing it for only 30 minutes. I've now visited Awkward Hill Cottage three times, and each time I go, I feel at home. My shoulders relax, my breathing slows and the world seems a much more beautiful place.
It's not that I dislike London. On the contrary, I think it's the best city in the world - the most beautiful, the most glamorous, with the most to offer in terms of theatre, restaurants and shopping. (I'm biased, of course!)
However, for me, life in London has become a bit of a Catch-22 - I have to work in…

Golden October at Awkward Hill

The famous cottages at Arlington Row, which date originally from the 13th century, and which are now owned by the National Trust. In the 18th century, they were converted to weavers' cottages.

Rack Isle, which is also managed by the National Trust. It's a meadow area which is home to all sorts of bird and animal life. In the olden days, the weavers used this flat area beside the river Coln to dry their cloth, hence the name.

In the gardens in Bibury (above and below) the shrubs and trees are starting to take on their autumn colours.

Meanwhile, up at Awkward Hill Cottage, the autumn crocuses are in full swing. They're growing in a reasonably open situation - not too dry, but with a bit of sun. The blue ones, below, look like a little pond from a distance.