Dorchester chronicles

Happy Birthday, Nige!! It’s my handsome, smart, savvy and altogether gorgeous step-son’s birthday.

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks, although we made a point of doing a bit of sightseeing. It’s such lovely weather that we’ve got to get outside. Otherwise we spend all day in front of our respective computers – Toby downstairs and me upstairs, Toby working on his project and me writing, with a break to eat lunch in the garden.

On Thursday the week before last we went into Oxford and attended a free daytime concert at the Ashmolean Museum. It featured a baroque cello and an original harpsichord from the museum. The cello was played by an Australian friend of our next-door neighbour Venetia, who is originally from Melbourne. It was a very elegant room and the music was delightful, and included Bach partitas.

Ahsmolean concert

We had afternoon tea at the museum and then walked home via the Turf Tavern, which looked lovely with its baskets of flowers:

Turf - Toby

Turf flowers

Last Sunday we went for a drive in the country, to the lovely village of Dorchester. It is a largely unspoilt old village, as they built a bypass in the 1980s, which keeps out most of the traffic. As with many of the villages around here, there are some thatched cottages and lots of flowers.

Dorchester Thatched cottage

Dorchester wall of flowers

The village has the claim to fame of being in more than a few episodes of Midsomer Murders. In medieval times it was an important trading centre and had an Abbey. Now all that is left is the imposing church, which has a very impressive lych gate. It was saved from destruction at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries by the local lord of the manor. He, very sensibly, bought the church and gave it back to the village.

Dorchester Lych gate

We saw the local Vicar outside the church and asked her where would be a good place to eat lunch. She was diplomatic and said that she shouldn’t play favourites, but then a shifty look came over her face and she said quickly (after a glance around) that the Fleur makes its gravy out of stock made from bones, “the way it should be done”.

We took the hint and it was one of the best roast dinners I’ve ever eaten. The gigantic Yorkshire Pudding (to share) came on its own plate, there were lashings of gravy, mustard mashed potato, cauliflower cheese, crisp roast potatoes and home-made horseradish. Not surprisingly, the Fleur was also used in an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Dorchester Fleur

After lunch we walked across the fields to Day’s Lock on the Thames – from where you can look up to the hills of Wittenham Clumps, which we’d climbed a few weeks before.

Dorchester -Clump

We saw poppies in the wheatfield, which were lovely:

Dorchester Poppies

We next spent some time in the local history museum, which, along with the tea-room is located in the 14th century former Abbey guest house. After learning that the area is one of earliest occupied in the country and boasted a Villa in Roman times, we had to try the home home-made cake for afternoon tea. The Abbey guest-house also featured in an episode of Midsomer Murders (of course!). It was the one when Joyce joins the local historical society. I can’t remember which Midsomer village Dorchester was supposed to be in that episode: Midsomer Parva, or was it Midsomer Mallow, maybe Midsomer Wyvern. Couldn’t have been Badgers’ Drift…

On the way home from Dorchester we stopped by another little village, Sutton Courtenay. It’s where George Orwell is buried under his real name of Eric Arthur Blair. He had no connection with the village, but his publisher asked the local vicar if he could be buried in a spare plot in the churchyard, and the vicar agreed. It’s a lovely, peaceful spot.

Sutton Courtenay - Church

Sutton Courtenay - Orwell's grave

This may look like an unknown entry to Moria, but it’s actually a Norman doorway into the church:

20 July_Debin tiny door

In the bright midsummer here in Oxfordshire we have lots of lovely flowers.

Dorchester - flowers

The jasmine outside the back door releases its heavy scent night and day and we’ve seen real bumble-bees, enormous things that tumble around the blossom. Toby even mowed the lawn yesterday – it grows three centimetres in a week – but it’s soft and springy and only around 15 minutes work with the electric hover mower. He doesn’t even break a sweat.

This week’s highlight was a visit to Kelmscott Manor, the former house of William Morris on the upper Thames. When we went there last time the house wasn’t open. It was worth the wait, though, as it’s in much the same state as when Morris died over a hundred years ago. It’s full of beautiful and interesting furniture, artefacts and books – as well as Morris’s woollen overcoat! The gardens were lovely.

Kelmscott

Anyone for croquet?

Kelmscott - croquet

Toby surreptitiously picked and ate an apple in the orchard. Here’s a photo of the Apple Thief:

Kelmscott - apple thief

One unusual feature was the three-seater privy (outdoor toilet) in a shed at the back. For practically the whole time the Morris family was there, this was the only toilet:

Kelmscott - toilet2

Kelmscott is close to the Thames. We walked down there, to a lonely stretch of the river looking pretty in the glorious sunshine.

Kelmscott - Thames

And on the way we passed a somewhat incongruous World War II concrete bunker lurking in the trees on the bank. There are hundreds of these all over Britain. Apparently the Thames was going to be a line of defence for the Home Guard in the expected German invasion. But what about those pesky paratroopers, Cap’n Mainwaring?

Kelmscott - Bunker

We’re still getting used to this island weather. It’s been hot in the past couple of weeks, and the weather man said that a storm was on its way last Saturday.

Storm clouds brooded overhead for most of the day, but no rain. Toby was sitting in the back yard with his book and I came out and said, ‘was that a drop of rain?’ Then the heavens unleashed! Thunder. Lightening. A good four inches of rain. Hail. It all lasted about twenty minutes and then the clouds rolled away and we saw a little sunshine.

The same thing happened in London yesterday. It was heavy humid weather. We were sitting outside a lovely cafe in the gorgeously named Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury. I said, ‘Is that a drop of rain?” And it happened again – thunder, lightening, torrents of rain. Then peace.

I’m writing steadily and doing a lot of research. I love it here, but for the first time, on the bus back from London yesterday, I had a bout of homesickness. Maybe it’s watching the Commoonwealth Games, but I missed Perth. It passed…