“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water”
Thursday, September 20: When NASA wants to locate other life in the Universe, they look for water! There are a lot of research studies trying to find out why we humans have such an affinity for water.
Life Near Water
The canals are a funny example of the fact that we love water. Everybody gravitates to them, on any boats that will fit, walkers, runners, bicycles, and dogs on the tow paths, everybody wants to be here.
As man made entities they ought to be less compelling than they are. As soon as we moved to a new boat on a new canal we noticed a funny fact. The canals have personalities, As travel progresses this becomes more pronounced.
The weather, today, is not cooperating, it is cold, rainy and blowing. We leave travel for tomorrow and walk to see the village.
Wooten Wawen…”Farm, near a wood, belonging to Wagen”(an old Norse name)
This place has records going back to the 720’s with a gift of land from the King of the Mercians. It was set up to be a quiet home in a wooded area and still is. (Except for a little annoyance with the Vikings, but we all have our problems!)
Friday, September 21:
A clear morning with blue skies. We can go. Breakfast on board and a little morning television. AM TV when traveling is a great relief to us. It is proof that not all inane morning television is ours.
Leaving the mooring basin we cross the tiny aqueduct and travel under bridges 54 and 55. The latter is a “split-top” bridge for the early horse drawn boats. The bridge is brick, with a raised walkway leaving the towpath and up and over the bridge. As the horse crosses the bridge, his tow rope passes through the split and the horse, the loaded boat and life, go on.
Next, we negotiate a swing lock, these move easily and quickly. A couple come toward us on their boat. They tell us that we will enjoy Stratford on Avon.
Two weeks ago their son was married in the town. They liked it so much that they took their boat back to see more of it. They are leaving for home now and tell us we “have a good flight of locks ahead” of us. We are stopping along the way to see Mary Arden’s farm so that is not for today.
This is open country, it’s hunt country, the fences have panels in them for the horses to jump. It is an area of undulating hills. Pasture and ploughed fields are mixed. We have moved beyond stone country. The walls are gone, replaced by wood fences.
Crossing the Aqueduct
Here we go-Edstone Aqueduct. Picture a giant household gutter suspended by itself 65′ above the ground. It is the most exciting-very slow-amusement park ride you can imagine. We look down on fields of sheep. They look back, we wonder what they think.
Later, we pass a flock of quail on the towpath, to starboard a canal side house. Many of these houses have bright sunrooms overlooking the canal, this one is a big kitchen. Fun for morning coffee, it must be entertaining while cooking.
The Tow Horse Crossing
Bridge 58 appears, it also is a split bridge for the tow horse. I read that in the heyday of the canals, the pubs that dotted them had huge stables for the hard working tow horses. Winter travel must have been challenging for them and for the women who often led them all day. The women made bright colored knitted bumpers to prevent the tow rope from rubbing on the horses’ side.
Bridge 58 is special, it is extremely narrow-only an inch on either side of the boat. On a windy day it’s like threading a needle. You aim the 60′ of boat at the little bridge from the back. You learn control.
Comparing the Canals
Chilly outside; I make us a second cup of tea. I realize, here, that canals have personalities. The Oxford is a “Wind in the Willows” canal. There is open country to see but the pretty villages come along frequently. The willows, the grasses, the blackberries, all have a fanciful air.
The Stratford on Avon canal is in serious country; The badgers here are real!
Wilmcote village begins, pretty houses dot the canal with their own narrowboats moored alongside. We get directions from an man on a bicycle.
We pick a mooring spot along the grassy towpath. Beyond is a fence and grazing horses. In this quiet space there are no bollards in the ground to tie the boat to. We drive in the mooring pins the boats carry onboard and the boat is secure. You put the mooring pins next to the boat.
Never let the rope cross the towpath. It’s nasty for the unsuspecting bicyclists on the path, but every now and again it happens we are told. I cook up the last of the Oxford Market sausages (there is no freezer on this boat) we have lunch and a short nap.
About 1 PM the weather is clear and we walk to the bridge to see Wilmcote, Shakespeare’s mom’s home town. This is Feather Bed Bridge, could we be lucky and this road is Feather Bed Lane?
Mary Arden’s Farm
We are in luck, we walk up to the farm, with it’s famous half timbered buildings and sociable young sheep. We watch them play in the fields then come to greet us.
The Timbered house above has long been identified as the house Mary Arden grew up in with her 7 sisters. During a repair to the beams in the year 2000, the trustees utilized the science of dating wood by its tree rings to identify the date that the wood was cut. Sadly the house proved to be a few years too young.
In an act of either accidental genius or what we Americans like to call “just dumb luck” in 1968 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought the very nearby “Glebe Farm.” This smaller house, which has a shell of Victorian brick is in fact, Mary’s childhood home. Sometimes things just work out!
This is Mary’s House
We share the Good Luck
Tomorrow the farm is hosting an Apple Festival. They also sell a combined ticket to the various Shakespeare sites with a hop on, hop off bus.
We can use the pass for two days with 12 stops. The bus reaches each stop in intervals of 15-30 minutes depending on the season. You can also take the train between Wilmcote and Stratford center. If it remains rainy we will appreciate the service.
We stop at the pub, a 1903 building, once called the Swan, but now the Mary Arden. The pub is made to look older than it is and again we see that it serves as a neighborhood social center. Near us, a group of women tell stories and laugh, beyond, a couple have a leisurely lunch. We see no “table turning” here!
We find the village market, it’s like a 7-11 but it has fresh vegetables and lots of notices about village activities. The proprietor gives us directions to the church. A village needs a church and a pub, a little store is a nice extra.
The church, St Andrew’s, is a surprise, built in 1841 it is not ancient. Its interest is not historical, it is intellectual. Its first Vicar was an Oxford man and a follower of the Oxford Movement. So…the new ideas churning up the university towns did move out to the little villages. (The Oxford Movement was both a reformation and a step back in time, at the same time.)
The rest of the town includes a few old buildings, but has lots of small new subdivisons. We return to dinner on the boat.
A Tudor Festivity
Saturday, September 22:
I write this at 4:30 pm and we have enjoyed quite a day. Each day is it’s own adventure, every one a surprise. We began at 10 am, the opening time for the festival.
This festival offered both the reenactment of everyday farm life and special presentations of Tudor era arts, crafts and some nice food vendors. We met people totally committed to their work who made the event not just an interesting history lesson but a far more personal insight into a life led long before ours.
Under a slowly dripping tent we met Karen and Charlie. She recreates the English floor tiles you would find if you visited a church or a well adorned house up to the time of Henry VIII. Here is an image of one we bought for souveniers and gifts.
Trained, as a print maker, she learned linoleum tile making while working at a historical site and progressed from there. She and her husband, Charlie operate “A Company of Artisans“. He is a conservator of historic buildings.
They work on commissions for museums and historic properties. Here, they presented their work, dressed in medieval costume and display the molds and materials they use as well as a few samples of the products.
We were lucky to be able to buy two pieces. We chose a medieval pilgrim from Canterbury. He was an image old enough, that perhaps Chaucer saw him. The other was an image of a rabbit, certainly a pretty object to display today.
They explained the kiln used in the middle ages to cure the tiles, including the careful stacking of the tiles for even results. We discussed the operation of the ancient kilns and we were surprised to learn how similar the process was to today’s high volume automated procedures. Pete had experience with companies which operated these modern kilns. Some skills are sufficiently accurate that they can just be built upon over time.
Life on the Farm
We also were able to meet the animal husbandry managers. They know what they are doing and obviously love it. One man explained the 4 breeds of sheep they raise, also 2 pig breeds and 3 variety of cattle.
Among other breeds we see, Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, what appear to us to be Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, and a breed of cattle famous for rich sweet milk.
These are heirloom breeds which cannot be proven to go back to the 16th century but they are very old breeds and have the same important features that were sought when the Arden’s farmed this land.
In the house, we met two cooks making pottage (a stew), rolls and a desert pie. Just outside the door we walked through kitchen gardens filled with the last of the season’s produce and herbs.
The buildings were of Tudor oak and plaster construction. The beams throughout, were strong and extremely hard. The interiors gave a good sense of living conditions. The ceilings were low and some passages, upstairs required us to kneel to pass through the doorways.
This was the home of a successful family, wealthy peasants or yeoman class. The woman cooking said that she portrayed a daily servant. She said that her family would have eaten the same food. They would have used the same flavorings except pepper! As an imported luxury her family would have done without it.
Lunch and Conversation
Escaping the cold drizzle, we had lunch at the museum’s busy cafe. We were lucky that one of the vendors, in a hurry and needing to return to her shop, asked to share our table.
Charlotte operates a family apple farm in a nearby town. She maintains orchards and a local college bottles her apple juice, the cider her family makes themselves. Later we visit her stand in one of the barns and buy a little of both.
In the kitchen of the Arden’s house we saw a big stack of goose eggs. The staff are bemused by this. The geese, normally, stop laying in May. This hot summer they suddenly began laying again in September! No one can explain it. We speculate about the dry summer.
Tomorrow should be a day of bad weather. We can use the bus to see the Shakespeare sights and move the boat another day.