Our annual christmas break with the Crockers, Burkes and Forman-Pecks is no longer a yuletide holiday because of the super-abundance of grandchildren we all share and the numerous birthdays that occur around this time. Going away in mid-November, though, did little to blunt our enthusiasm for festive activities like eating and drinking.
On this occasion we were in Stow-on-the-Wold, staying at the Old Forge Barn where Nathan celebrated his 40th birthday. Like many of the barns we have stayed in the place was enormous with high ceilings and large open fireplaces and the usual minstrel’s gallery. Open-plan is the byword for barn conversions and in this case that also applied to the bathrooms and toilets.
The open fires, of course, always excite us and this time was no different. I was in charge as usual but Ray couldn’t resist a stint of throwing cardboard boxes onto the fire which promptly caught the chimney alight and necessitated a visit from the fire brigade.
We only had a long weekend so activities beyond eating, drinking and talking were limited but we did an autumnal walk through fields and a stream via an ancient community well to Broadwell and, on Graham’s advice, we visited Chipping Campden as being a less commercialised Cotswold town.
The towns and villages (especially Wick Rissington but not Moreton-in-the-Marsh) were all stunning, the buildings glowing with their honey-coloured stone. It is no wonder our ruling classes like to live here and work in London – a mere two hours drive away.
On the way home we stopped at Burford again and bumped into the Crockers with whom we then went to Asthall, the home of the Mitfords. Diane’s dad, Bill, played with girls when he was a child visiting his uncle Richard, the bailiff for the estate. We also went to Swinford where Farve built the new house that the sisters hated so much because it didn’t have the library that Asthall had. Four of the sisters are buried in St. Mary’s church and there is also a stained glass window that relates to Diane’s great-uncle.
By this time I felt a strange alienation to the almost perfect countryside around us. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it but more that I didn’t feel a sense of being part of it or it belonging in any sense to me. I think it was the overpowering presence of feudalism that pervaded everything about us that was responsible. Maybe that is why this place is so popular with David Cameron, his neighbour, Jeremy Clarkson and the rest of the Chipping Norton set.