Our Narrowboat Adventure Continues-Upton House
Wednesday, September 5th – Anything Goes-Upton House to Banbury Market Bus # 6 takes us to Upton House, on its route to Stratford upon Avon. (“We think, maybe someday.”) We are headed to the Warwickshire countryside on the edge of the Cotswolds.
This house built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries started in the reign of William and Mary. It is not a house treasured by the same family for centuries like some we have seen. It has had many owners and was rented often. The house we see is all about the raucous start of the twentieth century.
Into The Jazz Age
It was purchased in 1927 by Lord and Lady Bearsted, Walter and Dorothea Samuel, owners of Shell Oil. It was redecorated at the time to be a country home for fox hunting, house parties and to house an amazing art collection. This was the place for a roaring twenties good time.
This is not Merrie old England – It’s the Jazz Age The new owners did the house over in a style referred to by a wit of the time as “Curzon Street Baroque.” Never a straight line. Curvy wrought iron, Art Deco glam, old and new together. It was a sort of imaginary 18th-century atmosphere. Why? The Great War impacted all lives. A recovering society needed stability, romance and modernity all at once. In the U.S. we had the Colonial Revival Movement which provided some of the same feelings.
It ought to be said that the family earned their post-war good times. When WWI began the world had an oil glut! That’s because there was not much use for it. Countries sent one horse to the Great War for every three men they provided. By the end of the war, we had learned the phrase “Big Oil” because the world had plenty of use for oil. Shell Co. supplied much of the needed crude to the British war effort.
They Told Us This Would Be A Great Art Collection!
Walter Samuel loved to buy artwork. He bought lots; Bruegel, El Greco, Guardi, Hogarth, Stubbs, Canaletto. He never stopped. He had a wife who watched the budget. We are told that the contest became so extreme that he and his valet smuggled new paintings into his dressing room and hid them under the bed so she wouldn’t catch them. It’s a great story but how did he get them hung? Were there so many that she just didn’t notice?
We expect an old house, gardens have been in place here since the 12th century but these owners made it all about modernity and fashion. It has a bold aluminum leaf Art Deco bathroom and a Chinosoise bedroom. The gardens were developed when Lady Bearsted decided to make some improvements outside. She hired Kitty Lloyd-Jones, one of a few successful women in the profession of garden design.
This place includes a beautiful garden with some unique features you won’t see every day. In the “Gardens to Visit” section of this web site, you will find Upton House and Gardens, a detailed discussion of the garden. Here we will focus more on the house.
As a guest, you were meant to enter through a grand wrought-iron gateway, with stone pillars, and down a long drive through a wide lawn sloping slowly down toward the long limestone house.
The house offers small group tours, you pick a time and subject and go in on schedule. This means the house is not crowded but I am not sure what happens in inclement weather. There is a comfortable dining pavilion a short walk away.
Tours of the house are segmented. We choose the art tour and one on social history. The tours were directed by a retired couple. He worked all of his career in finance and loves to paint. He was well prepared to discuss and answer a good variety of questions. She wrangled the crowd and managed to elicit information about people’s interests. This enabled him to target his comments. We appreciated that.
This is a National Trust property. It was in good condition and well presented. We saw the garden following a dreadful summer for gardeners and its condition was admirable. The house is presented to visitors using the conceit that you are a potential buyer looking to purchase the place. We found the procedure not very useful.
Visit Upton House, this website will give you more information and photos
Heading back to the street we try to find the right place to wait for the bus. Sometime in the past, someone drove into the bus stop and there is no sign of it at all. This morning we were the only passengers on the bus and our driver took us into the grounds and directly to the visitor center. He told us that to make the return trip “stand under the big tree.”
We walk out… Back on the street, the “Big Tree”, presents an entertaining problem. Which big tree? There are at least 12 to fit the description with more beyond. We pick one under the watchful eyes of 15 young cattle accompanied by one lone sheep. They watch (it’s probably getting near dinner time), we look down the road. All of us are getting anxious. Both the bus and dinner are pretty late.
Finally we take off. We are on the top front seat of a double-decker bus. Years ago we rode the same seats from London to Kempton Park to see jump racing on Boxing Day. It’s still fun. On this trip as we enter the tightly crowded streets of residential Banbury, it is hair raising. The driver maneuvers the big bus across the grass, up on the sidewalk. This is an old town – they didn’t build for busses!
The school kids ride the public bus. When they get off they walk all over. The traffic keeps moving. There are no “student-stop signs”. We think of this as a safety-conscious society with a lot of rules and we are surprised. The kids, however, are surprised that we are surprised!
Thursday, September 6th – This is a rest day, we will turn the boat around in Banbury using a smallish winding hole. (This is a place in the water said to be wide enough to turn the longboats.) We hope its not Deja Vu all over again! ( See “stuck in the brambles”)
Our plan, moving downstream, is to visit historic villages and churches we missed on the way up. We slipped by a lot of beauty because we were admiring it! We also hear that we can find some pretty nice food on our journey.
Revising The Travel Plan
We want to see lots more of Oxford before we head out on the Thames. We’ll visit some pretty towns and William Morris’ country house, Kelmscott Manor. We started early today, to avoid congestion at the Banbury town lock- a location always busy with tourists, boaters and people on their way to work.
We’ll get water and a pump out. Filling the boat’s water tanks went slowly, we had used a lot. We Americans want everything measured electronically. On these boats, not so much, you estimate. Best to overestimate. We fill the tanks and tea kettle and saucepans.
The town lock was new to us, it had a double gate-this turned out to be easier because they are lighter. We moored for coffee and to use the internet. We had set up a VPN as we sometimes need to conduct business. The family on a downstream headed boat opened the gate for Pete and I walked ahead to open the lift bridge.
We don’t always use the bridge. We were proud of our new ability, to hop lightly across the black painted beams that make up the lock gate. That was until we watched the many residents of the senior housing unit tread quickly over the locks with their canes, phones, and shopping bags!
Luck, a phone call to the next boatyard found it open and the owner ready to accommodate us. A little north, we turn at the winding hole. We want to spend more time in the town and we find a new mooring next to a town park. A nap onboard and we walk to town hoping to catch the end of an open market for supplies. Banbury was a historic market town and its old square still serves the original purpose. Some vegetables at the booths and ground coffee from the Nero chain, sort of an Italian style coffee house. It serves the same purpose as Starbucks.
Local Cheeses At The Market In The Square
The highlight was the cheese merchant, a great salesman, and very opinionated. We are sitting on the lounge chairs enjoying the four cheeses now while listening to old Hoagy Carmichael music on the little Bose player. The first cheese is a (not)Stilton. The seller is mad at the governing organization which wants the cheesemakers to use only pasteurized milk. Three historic producers will not make the change and are no longer allowed to use the Stilton title.
This cheese takes its name from the ancient name of the town of Stilton – Stichelton. This cheese is creamy, rich and strong. It has a hint of smoke but not the slightly metallic finish of the pasteurized milk cheeses. The second, another non Stilton is a Ewe cheese from Bangor Ireland. It’s very creamy with tiny blue veins. It’s on the stinky end of Stiltons, which we like. The third is a hard Gruyere/Cheddar combination. It’s made by a Cheddar man who enhanced his education by studying with a Gruyere maker in Switzerland.
Number four is the one he presses us to buy. It’s a Pecorino laced with sooty gray veins of truffle. We figured out why he claims his customers call it “crack cheese”. It’s pretty amazing, it’s addictive. He says put it in a baggie with eggs for a couple of days… We added fresh bread and rolls from a neighboring vendor in the square and wandered a bit. We start near High and Parsons streets, going through tiny alleys. How long have people walked them? Well, the town is about 1500 years old. Some of the buildings have new shop windows, but the top floors look like they have been there forever.
Friday September 7. We will travel south and moor as close as possible to the path across the fields to King’s Sutton. This is said to be a very beautiful village. It’s on a rise about one and one-half miles from the canal. We saw its beautiful church spire piercing the sky on the way up and want to see more.
It’s partly the thrill of the chase. The place should be great on its own, but we enjoy figuring things out and finding small places that are not in the guidebooks. There is a church with a Saxon Baptismal Font and there should be a very good lunch at The White Horse, the local.
After taking on water, dumping the trash and recycling. (Recycling is not available everywhere on the canals.) We traverse several bridges and a very deep lock. Lucky again, the deep lock went quickly, some kind Australians left it full for us. This cuts the time in half – and of course, saves water. We moored just north of the Twyford Lock. This is one of about seven towns named Twyford in the country. It’s old English for two fords. In a country with lots of waterways, it’s a popular name.
Some of the great Oxford lamb patties made a good lunch. We toast yesterday’s rolls and I make a little yogurt sauce. We walk and photograph the sheep and the sunset. Stew for dinner, we listen to the sheep settling into the hedgerows for the night and a little Ella Fitzgerald and to bed.
Saturday, Sept 8 – The start of week three. We watch the sunrise over the fields, it is bright gold with deep shadows moving around the trees. It looks like a Wyeth landscape. We think that we understand why the emigrant English came to love that area around southeastern Pennsylvania where the Wyeth family painted. Soft hills and soft colors. We lived there and loved it too.
There is a little drizzle as we make oatmeal and put the last of the pig farm eggs into the bag with the pecorino. We check the weather on the tv, spotty reception, we are low in the water. From the kitchen sink, I am eye level with the grass. That’s eyeball to eyeball with the grazing sheep!
Kings Sutton, A Hidden Village
The walk to the village of Kings Sutton takes us across the public footpath over the fields. We climb stiles and cross the railroad track. It drizzled lightly as we passed the resting cattle. They ignored us. Just tourists. The village climbs a hill, most of the houses are old, some are named for their original purposes. We pass Lace Cottage, The Sweet House, The Carriage House, the Saddlery and the Baptist Church, now a house you can stay in. These old buildings are adaptable, they can be used for different purposes as needed.
A passerby with walking stick tells us that the pub, The White Horse opens at 10 for coffee and pastry. The pub is a beauty. We had proper coffee and shared a slice of Walnut Cake. Our server was a girl from Latvia. “This village is my home now” she told us. There is a train station down the hill, she can go to London any time she wants to.
A local gent comes in for coffee and gossip, he brought his Barbour, his stick and his dog. The dog knew the routine and slept under the bar. We got the last lunch reservations available and walked the village. We walk the Green, the old houses surrounding it are in the reddish stone which takes its color from very high iron content. There is a courthouse built in 1500 and a Manor House behind its iron gates. It dates from the 1700s. Every building has a handsome garden.
Like Aynho every space between the stepping stones is planted. Roses, Wisteria, Fuschia, Clematis and Ivy coat the walls. There are evergreens and red maples abound. The garden gates offer views of distant hills and fields.
The magic of these villages is not just within them, its the partially hidden views beyond. The fields, water, and hills pop out at every corner. This is a country with housing problems. We wonder how they will solve the problems without losing the green soul of the place.
This is a place which humans have reveled in for a long time. There is a Roman settlement within one-half mile. This town’s celebrity resident, St Rumbold was born here in 662! The church, St Peter and Paul, has Norman parts but it’s not a relic. It looks like a lively congregation with concerts, activities, even a trip to Lourdes.
The Saxon Baptismal Font
We bought a little booklet about its history for 1£. The graveyard suggested again that in the absence of war they lived long lives. The best part, we thought, was the Saxon Baptismal Font. The Victorians thought it too old and plain to display so they replaced it with a much fancier one and put this one out for the pigs. Later parishioners valued the history and brought back the Saxon Font. The lesson here, is apparently if you have a valuable artifact to store, trust it to the pigs. They’ll take great care of it!
Back to the White Horse for our 12:15 lunch. We have full days. The place is full. With a last-minute reservation we eat in the bar. The service was good and the seating comfortable. This place emphasizes Gin. More than 50 bottles are on two shelves. On a wet day, we choose Scotch and Bourbon from a shortlist. The starters for the two-course lunch were a parfait of Duck liver pate for Pete with toast. For Jane, Jerusalem Artichoke soup with a poached egg. The main course was lamb shoulder, with crispy edges and lovely gravy, green peas with puréed broad beans and potato.
We enjoyed a meal and a snack at this attractive pub, here is their web site, The White Horse, KIngs Sutton
We wander the village as long as possible and return across the fields. The public walkways are interesting to us. It’s an act of faith. The farmer trusts that the animals will not be disturbed, and the dogs will stay on leashes. Dogs are off-leash, but we don’t see bad behavior—farmers whose fields are not public post large and very explicit signs.
It’s getting toward dinner time. We are spotted across the fields by seven young black Angus steers. Ever hopeful, they trot then canter toward us. They recognize that we are not their farmers and move on by.
After stopping at the Warf to arrange services for tomorrow, we meet a neighboring boater. She is an A and E nurse (ER nurse to us) her husband runs a business offering Midsomer Murder tours. (This is a long-running TV mystery series.)
The stories take place in beautiful historic villages where everyone is charming. However, they will murder one another! A high point of the series is the fact that the characters commit these crimes employing a genuinely creative flair with agricultural implements! You will never look at a hayfork the same way again.
Her husband’s tours have his personal touch and are much better, she said than the big busses. (They are taking lots of vacation she tells us. She said she sees too many heart attacks in her ER!) Back to the boat, another stroll past more cattle, tea, and toast and off to bed.
We enjoy the animals around us and the wildlife. There will be more tomorrow.