This Country Life
And to the life of living in a country village in the south west of England. Arriving in the valley is something like stepping into a time warp. All of a sudden I am back in the land of agriculture and farming and meeting up with gristled old farmers serving you apple cider out of giant oak barrels and shouting at you in what almost seems like an Irish accent "ai, go on, 'tis only apple juice!". I LOVE IT!
The small villages are connected by the narrowest of roads, and nature is surely the most redeeming feature of the drive between villages. Everything is close by and yet there is the amazing feeling of space amongst everything that you see! Looking over my shoulder at the setting sun as it lights up a plain with houses and farms dotted all throughout it makes me hunger for the likes of the McLaren Vale. Horses slowly trudge by and it seems the natural sound of the the area.
We arrive at the house which is an old 1860's place with 3 levels and many many rooms. I am starting to understand the English so much more now that I see where they live and how they live! There are sitting rooms and formal dining rooms, which seem not to be used very often! But it all fits rather well. Glassed in gazebos are their solutions to outdoor living, and even in summer you are glad of the cover and warmth!
The best thing about this place is the kitchen. It is a large room at the rear of the house but has HUGE windows that look out over the fields in the distance that house horses and hay and seem to just stretch beyond your sight! The centre-piece in the kitchen is an AGA! Now I am not really sure of what it is but it is a fantastic gorgeous large steel oven with a series of doors and compartments and 2 pizza sized hops that are permanently hot and ready to go. This thing doesn't turn off and is a source of warmth in the house. Each compartment is a different temperature oven, from warming right through to baking! There are 5 ovens, which are all fed by warmed oil that circulates through the structure. It is beautiful, and you can sense that this is what a kitchen should have. Particularly a farmhouse kitchen, permanently ready to strike up a feast for all that walk in the door! And like any farmhouse, you always enter through the back door! It is just the done thing.
My room is large and my view over the fields is something to relish. I wake to the sound of wrens and birds and not much else. When a car is near you actually hear it for the strange sound that it is. And you wonder what it is doing out there! The light is vast and beautiful and warms you as it spreads out across the land! It is so lovely here and I am so instantly relaxed! To have a home where people come to meet and gather for food and enjoyment and quietness is surely something I should aim for in my life!
The weekend is basically spent whiling away hours in the house with coffee, tea, food and then in the evenings, relaxing in the gazebo with dinner and wine! The musicians who have arrived eventually after a late start take to the piano and music fills the space at all times. All rather lovely! The company is grand and the house is perfect for taking in the atmosphere of relaxed conversation and contentment! Morning coffee is spent sitting looking out over the fields and greeting horses and riders as they amble past the kitchen windows waving a casual good morning! Takes a little getting used to for a London lad! (If I dare to call myself that!)
As mentioned, we make a call to a local icon, The Apple Cider man. A man of the earth character and a lively chap who has surely been in the county and served the village of CHEDDAR for many years with his local alcoholic fare! There are three giant barrels and you walk in amongst the outdated machinery and coy wooden tables, swiping a few cobwebs out of the way in the process. There is a lively banter coming from ‘the lounge’ which is signified by the wooden sign above the door. The space is little more than a table and chairs sitting haphazardly amongst the smoking locals who all look like they have come in from a day in the fields. Our host beams at us with a lovely generous smile and his way of saying hello is to ask “sweet dry or draught?”. Obviously a refusal is not to be given to this man. Ironically the way of deciphering a blend of one of the three is a little bit of this one, some of that one and, oh why not a bit of this one to throw it all together. Swish it in the pitcher and voila, you have traditional cider of a distinctive nature that has a place in local folklore! You buy by the cask or, if you prefer, you can bring your own container. Oh and there is also the local fare as well. You can’t come to Cheddar and not eat cheese! So we are given three rather large slabs of cheese, 2 cheddars and one stilton which are all very tasty and authentic. A lovely way to render an afternoon introduction to the area!
The landscape is gorgeous. A valley is protected on either side by rolling hill ranges and the green colour of the flats looks glorious in the sunshine. Little villages lay dotted along the roads to the main townships which are steeped in mediaeval history and grandeur. Each village at the moment is hosting it’s own flower show, as summer invites all the gardens to look their best. And with each show there is the associated local arts and crafts fairs! Very traditional. All manner of pickles, jams and home bakes are on offer and all so very proper and English! Love it! The largest town is Bristol, home feats of engineering by a crazed man who designed some of the first iron hulled trans Atlantic cargo ships. Rather impressive bridges and old world museums dot the streets and the hubbub is quite genuine in this centre of activity on the western coast of England. A very pretty town with a noted University and patronage of local industry and wealthy landed families! Outside of Oxford and Cambridge apparently Bristol holds it’s own in the educational elite of the nation! I mistake many spires and grand buildings for religious houses when they are in fact University halls and establishments. It’s all very picturesque and charming.
A quick trip to Wells leaves me breathless as I see an 11th Century cathedral in all its splendour and glory with large green grounds spread before it’s ornate doors and entrance. The gothic structure is as grand as those of Italian cities and the detail of the outside deserves close inspection and attention of the best part of the day. A street market is also alive with activity of local fare and farmers. All set out in the traditional town square, cobbled streets and Tudor buildings still commanding the eye. I could spend a weekend here but for today it is a quick 45 minutes. Definetly a place to return to for a more indulgent visit sometime in the future!
The weekend is inspiring and makes for rather resigned feelings of wanting to live in the country amongst nature and simplicity with quiet tones abounding. A lovely break to have had on this final weekend of relative freedom before beginning back at work. So lovely and relished for the refreshing experience it has been.