Trip Start Aug 20, 1997
7Trip End Sep 18, 1997
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We returned to Winchcombe with time to spare and decided to walk down to Suddeley Castle. We didn't actually go into the castle (in fact we never actually saw it) as we were reluctant to buy tickets. By this time it was raining and we were amused to see a family, umbrellas held high, picnicking under a tree. Back at the Plaisterer's arms I indulged in a pint of Calder's and an enormous steak and ale pie.
DAY 5 SUN First thing in the morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of cereal, bacon and eggs and sausages. We gave the dogs some left over toast and our landlady told them to thank us. "Woof!" they exclaimed in unison. We hopped into our little car, which was garaged at the back of the house in Monk's Lane, and drove off in search of adventure. Although our first few days in England had been uncomfortably hot and humid, the weather had now become overcast and drizzly.
Upper and Lower Slaughter were picturesque but swarming with tourists. At Bourton-on-the-Water I posed on one of the little stone bridges so that Christopher could take my photo, thus continuing a tradition which had begun over two centuries ago. Stanton was as pretty as everyone had said and was completely devoid of foreigners. We stopped briefly at the Stanton Cricket Club for a warm Coke then walked up a lane to the field where Dad's ashes had been scattered years ago. I collected a vial of good English mud from the track beside the field as well as a small stone, knowing even as I did so that quarantine restrictions would prevent me taking them into Australia.
At lunchtime we returned to Gower House where I left Chris to rest while I drove off towards Stratford. I was not sure how long it would take to reach the Bard's birthplace and decided instead to visit Tewkesbury, which was a lot closer. By the time I reached the old town the rain had ceased and I was able to explore the abbey and its grounds in comfort. Tewkesbury Abbey was my first ancient building, or should I say the first ancient building I had entered, and I was deeply impressed. Eventually I would lose a lot of my enthusiasm for churches, however at this early stage I was overcome by the history. The abbey was packed with tombs and effigies, the most interesting of the latter being that of a rotted corpse. While I was searching for an inconspicuous spot to inscribe my initials I found graffiti bearing the date '1640' scratched into the corpse's right buttock.
As I walked around outside I heard the angelic voices of a boys' choir as it rehearsed for Evensong. I was so moved that I paid 20 pence for a piece of cardboard with a holy poem on it for Margaret. When I returned to the car I realised that the parking lot was of the Pay and Display variety. I had never encountered such a system and was extremely relieved that no-one had noticed my failure to either pay or display.
Back in Winchcombe I rejoined Christopher for our nightly foray to the Plaisterer's Arms. By now the innkeeper actually greeted us as we walked in the door, making us feel like locals. I tried a local ale, Jousters, which was warmish but pleasant nonetheless. After tonight I made a point of always asking for the local real ale and quickly grew to prefer its warmth and lack of fizz to its alternative, lager.
DAY 6 MON This morning we drove to Newnham to meet Uncle David. In the days when Gloucester was a major port large vessels would sail up the Severn and unload at the little village as the river became too shallow by the time it reached the city. Newnham had been the sight of a few small battles during the civil war and you can still see a cannonball stuck in the wall of the local church (I could never find it). We spent a few hours with David in his tiny house before going for a stroll on The Green, which had long ago been an earthen fort.
We eventually left to seek accommodation for the night. The hotel Christopher had in mind proved to be a disappointment (too expensive) so we drove all the way to Chepstow, which, much to my surprise, was in Wales. We parked in a parking lot and spent a good five minutes trying unsuccessfully to force coins into a Pay and Display machine before a friendly local pointed to a sign which informed us that there was no charge on public holidays. Chepstow appeared to be devoid of bed and breakfasts so we returned to Newnham via the Forest of Dean. Much to our delight we discovered a bed and breakfast right in the middle of town. The Swan was cheap at $30, and our only difficulty occurred when the landlady asked whether we wanted a double or twin room. I can never remember which type has two beds and which has a single large one, so I simply looked confused while Christopher, face red with embarrassment, assured her that we were brothers and most definitely would require a double room (or was it a twin?).
A pleasant drive back through the Forest of Dean took us to Tintern Abbey where, for a mere $5, we were able to explore the ruins to our hearts' content. Much to my shame I pocketed a piece of the historic sight as a souvenir, only to replace it a little later after it had dawned on me that if every visitor took a piece of the abbey it would disappear within the next five hundred years.
As had become our custom, we supped at the local pub, one of three in Newnham. Generations of Cullis men have knocked back an ale at the Vic, and I felt honoured to be amongst their company. While I can cope with a pint of warm brown beer, I sometimes find it difficult to finish the enormous meals served in pubs.
DAY 7 TUE We drove to Gloucester this morning to have a look around and make sure we could get a parking spot near the council building so that we wouldn't be late for the Freeman ceremony. With plenty of time to spare we explored the famed Gloucester Cathedral, searching in vain for the tomb of our ancestor, King Coallis of Colesbourne. I marvelled at the beauty of the renowned cloisters and surreptitiously etched my name in one of the massive pillars.
Some time later we picked up a very spiffily attired Nan who graciously gave us a guided tour of the city, including the house in which she lived as a child and where a young Pop combed his hair and preened before the mirror.
We arrived at The Docks forty-five minutes early and filled in the time strolling around what had once been a group of derelict flour mills. Dad worked around here before he migrated to Australia, but I think he would have barely recognised the immaculate tourist attraction that had once thrived as a major port. We joined a group of locals to watch the lock being emptied so that a small boat could put to sea. Hurrah! Jolly good fun!
The mayor's chauffeur met us in the lobby of the council offices and led us to the mayoral chambers where we were greeted by an ermine-gowned Mayor and similarly clad Sheriff, who happened to be female. Actually there was quite a crowd; the aforementioned VIPs, a police inspector, the President of the Freemens' Association and another fellow whose function was never explained. The President handed me an official Freeman's robe (the design based on a bathrobe and made by the President's wife) and recited the ancient Freeman's oath while I stood solemnly with my hand on what I assume was a bible. Having sworn allegiance to Her Majesty I guess I'm precluded from voting for a republic.
As the mayor guided us around the council exhibits a reporter cum cameraman and his work experience assistant approached and I had to pose with His Worship for several photos. The report which eventually appeared in the local paper was remarkably inaccurate but was accompanied by a very good picture of me and the mayor.
After taking our leave from our new found friends we partook of coffee in a little coffee shop at The Docks. Nan found the beverage too revolting to drink, so I finished it for her before being profoundly sick over Christopher's shoes. No I didn't.
We dropped Nan off at her little house in Cheltenham and returned to Newnham where we stuffed ourselves with beer and food before retiring for the night.