A Cotswold Village
J. Arthur Gibbs
Part 3 out of 7
fare. This is the reason they are so difficult to catch. One is not able
to increase the stock of trout to any great extent, thereby making them
easier to catch, because the fish one introduces into the water are apt
to crowd together in one or two places, with the result that they are
far too plentiful in the shallows, where there is little food, and too
scarce in the deeper water. Of the Loch Leven trout, turned in two years
ago as yearlings, more than two-thirds inhabit the quick-running,
gravelly reaches; in consequence, they have grown very little. The few
that have stayed in the deeper water have done splendidly; they are now
about three-quarters of a pound in weight. No fish, not even sea trout,
fight so well as these bright, silvery "Loch Levens." They have cost us
no end of casts and flies already this season,--not yet a month old.
Experience proves, however, that ordinary _salmo fario_, or common brook
trout, are the best for turning down; for the Loch Leven trout require
deep water to grow to any size.
When a boy, I made a strange recovery of an eel that I had hooked and
lost three weeks before. I was fishing with worms in a large deep hole
in Surrey. My hook was a salmon fly with the feathers clipped off. I
hooked what I believed to be an eel, but he broke the line through
getting it entangled in a stick on the bottom. Three weeks afterwards,
when fishing in the same fashion and in the same place, the line got
fixed up on the bottom. I pulled hard and a stick came away. On that
stick, strange to say, was entangled my old gut casting-line, and at the
end of the line was an eel of two pounds' weight! On cutting him open,
there, sure enough, was the identical clipped salmon fly; it had been
inside that eel for three weeks without hurting him. This sounds like a
regular angler's yarn, and nobody need believe it unless he likes;
nevertheless, it is perfectly true. I had got "fixed up" in the same
stick that had broken my line on the previous occasion.
That fish have very little sense of feeling is proved time after time.
There is nothing unusual in catching a jack with several old hooks in
his mouth. With trout, however, the occurrence is more rare. Last season
my brother lost a fly and two yards of gut through a big trout breaking
his tackle, but two minutes afterwards he caught the fish and recovered
his fly and his tackle. We constantly catch fish during the may-fly time
with broken tackle in their mouths.
Who does not recollect the rapturous excitement caused by the first fish
caught in early youth? My first capture will ever remain firmly
impressed on the tablet of the brain, for it was a red herring--"a
common or garden," prime, thoroughly salted "red herring"! It came about
in this way. At the age of nine I was taken by my father on a yachting
expedition round the lovely islands of the west coast of Scotland. We
were at anchor the first evening of the voyage in one of the beautiful
harbours of the Hebrides, and, noticing the sailors fishing over the
side of the boat, I begged to be allowed to hold the line. Somehow or
other they managed to get a "red herring" on to the hook when my
attention was diverted; so that when I hauled up a fish that in the
darkness looked fairly silvery my excitement knew no bounds. After the
sailors had taken it off the hook, and given it a knock on the head, I
rushed down with it into the cabin, where my father and three others
were dining. Throwing my fish down on to the table, I delightedly
exclaimed, "Look what I have caught, father; isn't it a lovely fish?" I
could not understand the roars of laughter which followed, as one of the
party, with a horrified glance at my capture, shouted, "Take it away,
take it away!" _Non redolet sed olet_. Oddly enough, although after this
I caught any amount of real live fish, I never realised until months
afterwards how miserably I had been taken in by the boat's crew on that
Not long afterwards, whilst fishing with a worm just below the falls at
Macomber, in the Highlands, I made what was for a small boy a remarkable
catch of sea trout. I forget the exact number, but I know I had to take
them back in sacks. They were "running" at the time, and it was very
pretty to see them continually jumping up the seven-foot ladder out of
the Spean into the Lochy. Underneath this ladder, where the water boiled
and seethed in a thousand eddies, hundreds of trout lay ready to jump up
the fall. Into this foaming torrent I threw my heavily leaded bait. No
sooner was the worm in the water than it was seized by a fine sea trout.
Some of them were nearly two pounds; and although I had a strong
casting-line, they were often most difficult to land, for a series of
small cataracts dashed down amongst huge rocks and slippery boulders,
until, a hundred feet below, the calm, deep Macomber pool was reached.
As the fish, when hooked, would often dash down this foaming torrent
into the pool below, they gave a tremendous amount of play before they
were landed. There was an element of danger about it, too, as a false
step might have led to ugly complications amongst the rocks, over which
the water came pouring down at the rate of ten miles an hour. A boy of
twelve years old, as I was then, would not have stood a chance in that
roaring torrent. A terrible accident happened here a few years
afterwards. A party went from the house, where I always stayed, to fish
at Macomber Falls. There were four ladies and two men. Whilst they were
sitting eating their luncheon at this romantic spot, an argument arose
as to whether a man falling into the seething pool below the fall would
be drowned or not. The water was only about two feet deep; but the place
was a miniature whirlpool, and, once started down the pent-in torrent, a
man would be dashed along the rocky bed and carried far out into the
deep Macomber pool beyond. A gentleman from Lincolnshire argued that in
would be impossible for any one to be drowned in such shallow water.
This was at lunch. Little did he imagine that within half an hour his
theory would be put to the test. But so it was; for whilst he was
standing on the rocks fishing, with a large overcoat on, he slipped and
fell in. His fishing-line became entangled round his legs, and he was
borne away at the mercy of the current. Unfortunately only ladies were
present, his friend having gone down stream. Twice he clutched hold of
the rocky bank opposite them, but it was too slippery, and his hold gave
way. A man jumping across the chasm might possibly have saved him by
risking his own life, for it was only fourteen feet wide; but it would
have been madness for any of the ladies to have attempted it. So the
poor fellow was drowned in two feet of water, before their eyes, and in
spite of their brave endeavours to save him. He must have been stunned
by repeated blows from the rocks, or else I think he would have baffled
successfully with the torrent. The overcoat must have hampered him most
dreadfully. It was a terrible affair, reminding one of the death of
"young Romilly" in the Wharfe, of which Wordsworth tells in that
beautiful poem, the "Force of Prayer." Bolton Abbey, as everybody knows,
was built hard by, on the river bank, by the sorrowful mother, in honour
of her boy.
"That stately priory was reared;
And Wharf, as he moved along
To matins, join'd a mournful voice,
Nor failed at evensong."
How many a beautiful spot in the British Isles has been endowed with a
romance that will never entirely die away owing to some catastrophe of
this kind! Macomber Falls are very beautiful indeed, but one cannot pass
the place now without a shudder and a sigh.
It has been said that "the test of a river is its power to drown a
man." There is doubtless a peculiar grandeur about the roaring torrent;
but to me there is a still greater charm in the gentle flow of a south
country trout stream, such as abound in Hampshire, Wiltshire, and in the
Cotswolds. I do not think the Coln is capable of drowning a man, though
one of the Peregrine family told me the other day that the only two men
who ever bathed in our stream died soon afterwards from the shock of the
intensely cold water! But then, it must be remembered that the old
prejudice against "cold water" still lingers amongst the country folk of
Gloucestershire; so that this story must always be taken _cum
* * * * *
There are few trout streams to our mind more delightful from the
angler's point of view than the Gloucestershire Coln. Rising a few miles
from Cheltenham, it runs into the Thames near Lechlade, and affords some
fifteen miles or more of excellent fishing. The scenery is of that quiet
and homely type that belongs so exclusively to the chalk and limestone
streams of the south of England.
From its source to the point at which it joins the Isis, the Coln flows
continuously through a series of parks and small well-wooded demesnes,
varied with picturesque Cotswold villages and rich water meadows. It
swells out into fishable proportions just above Lord Eldon's Stowell
property, steals gently past his beautiful woods at Chedworth and the
Roman villa discovered a few years ago, then onward through the quaint
old-world villages of Fossbridge to Winson and Coln-St-Dennis. Though
not a hundred miles from London, this part of Gloucestershire is one of
the most primitive and old-fashioned districts in England. Until the new
railway between Andover and Cheltenham was opened, four years ago, with
a small station at Fosscross, there were many inhabitants of these
old-world villages who had never seen a train or a railway. Only the
other day, on asking a good lady, the wife of a farmer, whether she had
ever been in London, I received the reply, "No, but I've been to
Cheltenham." This in a tone of voice that meant me to understand that
going to Cheltenham, a distance of about sixteen miles, was quite as
important an episode in her life as a visit to London would have been.
On leaving Winson the Coln widens out considerably, and for the next two
miles becomes the boundary between Mr. Wykeham-Musgrave's property of
Barnsley and the manor of Ablington. It flows through the picturesque
hamlet of Ablington, within a hundred yards of the old Elizabethan manor
house, over an artificial fall in the garden, and passes onward on its
secluded way through lovely woodland scenery, until it reaches the
village of Bibury; here it runs for nearly half a mile parallel with the
main street of the village, and then enters the grounds of Bibury Court.
I know no prettier village in England than Bibury, and no snugger
hostelry than the Swan. The landlady of this inn has a nice little
stretch of water for the use of those who find their way to Bibury; and
a pleasanter place wherein to spend a few quiet days could not be found.
The garden and old court house of Bibury are sweetly pretty, the house,
like Ablington, being three hundred years old; the stream passes within
a few yards of it, over another waterfall of about ten feet, and soon
reaches Williamstrip. Here, again, the scenery is typical of rural
England in its most pleasing form; and the village of Coln-St.-Aldwyns
is scarcely less fascinating than Bibury.
After leaving the stately pile of Hatherop Castle and Williamstrip Park
on the left, the Coln flows silently onwards through the delightful
demesne of Fairford Park. Here the stream has been broadened out into a
lake of some depth and size, and holds some very large fish. Another
mile and Fairford town is reached, another good specimen of the Cotswold
village--for it is a large village rather than a town--with its lovely
church, famous for its windows, its gabled cottages, and comfortable
Bull Inn. There are several miles of fishing at the Bull, as many an
Oxonian has discovered in times gone by, and we trust will again.
From what we have said, it will easily be gathered that this stream is
unsurpassed for scenery of that quiet, homely type that Kingsley
eulogises so enthusiastically in his "Chalk Stream Studies," and I am
inclined to agree with him in his preference for it over the grander
surroundings of mountain streams:
"Let the Londoner have his six weeks every year among crag and heather,
and return with lungs expanded and muscles braced to his nine months'
prison. The countryman, who needs no such change of air and scene, will
prefer more homelike, though more homely, pleasures. Dearer to him than
wild cataracts or Alpine glens are the still hidden streams which Bewick
has immortalised in his vignettes and Creswick in his pictures. The long
grassy shallow, paved with yellow gravel, where he wades up between low
walls of fern-fringed rock, beneath nut and oak and alder, to the low
bar over which the stream comes swirling and dimpling, as the
water-ouzel flits piping before him, and the murmur of the ringdove
comes soft and sleepy through the wood,--there, as he wades, he sees a
hundred sights and hears a hundred tones which are hidden from the
traveller on the dusty highway above."
But _chacun a son gout_! Let us now see what sort of sport may be had in
the Coln. To begin with, it must be described as a "may-fly" stream.
This means, of course, that there is a tremendous rise of fly early in
June, with the inevitable slack time before and after the may-fly time.
But there is much pleasant angling to be had at other times. The season
begins at the end of March, when a few small fish are rising, and may be
caught with the March brown or the blue and olive duns. Few big fish are
in condition until May, but much fun can be had with the smaller ones
all through April. The half-pounders fight splendidly, and give one the
idea, on being hooked, of pulling three times their real weight. The
April fishing, at all events after the middle of the month, is very
delightful in this river. One does not actually kill many fish, for a
large number are caught and returned.
In May, when the larger fish begin to take up their places for the
summer, one may expect good sport. This season, however, has been very
disappointing; and, judging by the way the fish were feeding on the
bottom for the first fortnight of the month, one is led to expect an
early rise of the may-fly. Until the "fly is up," the April flies,
especially the olive dun, are all that are necessary. For a couple of
weeks before the "fly-fisher's carnival" sport is always uncertain.
If the wind is in a good quarter, sport may be had; but should it be
east, the trout will not leave the caddis, with which the bed of the
river is simply alive at this time. Of late years good sport has been
obtained at the latter end of May with small flies. The may-fly
generally comes up on the higher reaches about the last week in May, or
about June 1st, though at Fairford, lower down, it is a week earlier. A
good season means a steady rise of fly, lasting for nearly three weeks,
but with no great amount of fly on any one day. A bad may-fly season
means, as a rule, a regular "glut" of fly for three or four days, so
that the fish are stuffed full almost to bursting point, and will not
look at the natural fly afterwards, much less at your neatly "cocked"
Large bags can, of course, be made on certain days in the may-fly
season; but I do not know of any better than one hundred and six fish in
three days, averaging one pound apiece.
Sport, however, is not estimated by the number of fish taken, and there
is no better day's fun for the real fisherman than killing four or five
brace of good fish when the trout are beginning to get tired of the fly,
but are still to be caught by working hard for them. The "alder" will
often do great execution at this time, and a small blue dun is sometimes
very killing in the morning or evening.
After the "green-drake" has lived his short life and disappeared, there
is a lull in the fishing, and the sportsman may with advantage take
himself off to London to see the Oxford and Cambridge cricket match. All
through July and August, when the water gets low and clear, the best and
largest fish may be taken from an hour before sunset up to eleven
o'clock at night by the red palmer. Although it savours somewhat of
poaching, I confess to a weakness for evening and night fishing. The
cool water meadows, the setting sun, with its golden glow on the water,
add a peculiar charm to fishing at this time of day in the hot summer
months. And then--the splash of your fish as you hook him! How magnified
is the sound in the dim twilight, when you cannot see, but can only hear
and feel your quarry! And what satisfaction to know that that great
"logger-headed" two-pounder, that was devouring goodness knows how many
yearlings and fry daily, is safe out of the water and in your basket!
On rainy days in these months good sport may be had with the wet fly;
and in September a yellow dun, or a fly that imitates the wasp, will
kill, if only you can keep out of sight, and place a well-dried fly
right on the fish's nose.
The dry fly and up stream is of course the orthodox method of fishing in
this as in other south-country chalk or limestone streams. No flogging
the water indiscriminately all the way up, but marking your fish down,
and stalking him, is the real game. For those who fish "wet" sport is
not so good as it used to be, owing to the "schoolmaster being abroad"
amongst trout as well as amongst men; but on certain windy days this
method is the only one possible. There is a good deal of prejudice
against the "chuck-and-chance-it" style among the advocates of the
dry-fly method of fishing. That a man who fishes with a floating fly
should be set down as a better sportsman than one who allows his fly to
sink is, to my thinking, a narrow-minded argument, and one, moreover,
that is not borne out by facts. True, in some clear chalk streams the
fish can only be killed with the dry fly; and in such cases it is
unsportsmanlike to thrash the water--in the first place, because there
is no chance of catching fish, and in the second, in the interest of
other anglers, because it is likely to make the fish shy. And therefore
it is a somewhat selfish method of fishing.
But let those accomplished exponents of the art of fishing who are too
fond of applying the epithet "poacher" to all those who do not fish in
their own particular style remember that there are but few streams in
England sluggish enough for dry-fly fishing; consequently many
first-rate fishermen have never acquired the art. The dry-fly angler has
no more right to consider himself superior as a sportsman to the
advocate of the old-fashioned method than the county cricketer has to
consider himself superior to the village player. In both cases time and
practice have done their work; but the best fishermen and the most
practised exponents of the game of cricket are very often inferior to
their less distinguished brethren as _sportsmen_. At the same time, were
I asked which of all our English sports requires the greatest amount of
perseverance, the supremest delicacy of hand, the most assiduous
practice, and the most perfect control of temper, in order that
excellence may be attained, I would unhesitatingly answer, "Dry-fly
fishing on a real chalk stream"; and I would sooner have one successful
day under such conditions than catch fifty trout by flogging a
In the Coln the fish run largest at Fairford, where the water has been
deepened and broadened; and there three-pounders are not uncommon. Then
at Hatherop and Williamstrip there are some big fish. Higher up the
trout run up to two and a half pounds; and the average size of fish
killed after May 1st is, roughly speaking, one pound. The higher reaches
are very much easier to fish, for the following reason: at Bibury, and
at intervals of about half a mile all the way down, the river is fed by
copious springs of transparent water; the lower down you go, and the
more springs that fall into the river, the more glassy does it become.
The upper reaches of this river may be described as easy fishing. The
water, when in good trim, is of a whey colour, though after June it
becomes low and very clear. The flies I have mentioned are the only ones
really necessary, and if the fish will not take them they will probably
take nothing. They are, to sum up:
(1) March Brown.
(2) Olive Dun.
(3) Blue Dun.
"Wykeham's Fancy" and the "Grey Quill Gnat" are the only other flies
that need be mentioned. The former has a great reputation on the river,
but we ourselves have used it but little.
The food on the Coln is most abundant, and to this must be attributed
the extraordinary size of the fish as compared with the depth and bulk
of water. That one hundred and fifty brace of trout, averaging a pound
in weight, are taken with rod and line each year on a stretch of water
two miles in length, and varying in depth from two to three feet, with a
few deep holes, the width of the water being not more than thirty feet
for the most part, is sufficient proof that there is abundance of food
in the river.
Where the water is shallow we have found great advantage accrue by
putting in large stones and fir poles, to form ripples and also homes
for the fish. By this means shallow reaches can be made to hold good
fish, and the eddies and ripples make them easy to catch. The stones add
to the picturesqueness of the stream, for they soon become coated with
moss, and give the idea in some places of a rocky Scotch burn. A
pleasant variety of fishing is thus obtained; for at one time you are
throwing a dry fly on to the still and unruffled surface of the broader
reaches, and a hundred yards lower down you may have to use a wet fly in
the narrower and quicker parts, where the stones cause the water to
"boil up" in all directions, and the eddies give a chance to those who
are uninitiated into the mysteries of dry-fly angling.
The large fish prefer sluggish water, but in these artificial ripples
fish may be caught on days on which the stream would be unfishable under
ordinary circumstances. It would be invidious to make comparisons
between the Coln and the Hampshire rivers--the Itchen and the
Test,--these are larger rivers, with larger fish, and they require a
better fisherman than those stretches of the Coin that we are dealing
with, although the lower reaches of the latter stream are difficult
enough for most people.
Otters used to be considered scarce on the River Coln, but two have
lately been trapped in the parish of Bibury. With pike and coarse fish
we are not troubled on the upper reaches, though lower down they exist
in certain quantities. Of poachers I trust I may say the same. Rumour
has sometimes whispered of nets kept in Bibury and elsewhere, and of
midnight raids on the neighbouring preserves; but though I have walked
down the bank on many a summer night, I have never once come upon
anything suspicious, not even a night-line. The Gloucestershire native
is an honest man. He may think, perhaps, that he has nothing to learn
and cannot go wrong, but burglaries are practically unknown, and
poaching is not commonly practised.
To sum up, the River Coln affords excellent sport amid surroundings
seldom to be found in these days. The whole country reminds one of the
days of Merrie England, so quaint and rural are the scenes. The houses
and cottages are all built of the native stone, which can be obtained
for the trouble of digging, so there is no danger of modern villas or
the inroads of civilisation spoiling the face of the country. And
moreover, these country people; being simple in their tastes, have never
endeavoured to improve on the old style of building; the newer cottages,
with their pointed gables, closely resemble the old Elizabethan houses.
The new stone soon tones down, and every house has a pretty garden
attached to it.
I have just returned from a stroll by the river, with my rod in hand, on
the look-out for a rise. Not a fish was stirring. It is the middle of
May, and this glorious valley is growing more and more glorious every
day. An evening walk by the stream is delightful now, even though you
may begin to wonder if all the fish have disappeared. The air is full of
joyful sounds. The cuckoo, the corncrake, and the cock pheasant seem to
be vieing with each other; but, alas! nightingales there are none. As I
come round a bend, up get a mallard and a duck, and beautiful they look
as they swing round me in the dazzling sunlight. A little further on I
come upon a whole brood of nineteen little wild ducks. The old mothers
are a good deal tamer now than they were in the shooting season. Many a
time have they got up, just out of shot, when I was trying to wile away
the time during the great frost with a little stalking. A kingfisher
shoots past; but I have given up trying to find her nest. There is a
brood of dabchicks, and, a little further on, another family of
The spring flowers are just now in their flush of pride and glory.
Clothing the banks, and reflected everywhere in the blue waters of the
stream, are great clusters of marsh marigolds painting the meadows with
their flaming gold; out of the decayed "stoles" of trees that fell by
the water's edge years and years ago springs the "glowing violet"; here
and there, as one throws a fly towards the opposite bank, a purple glow
on the surface of the stream draws the attention to a glorious mass of
violets on the mossy bank above; myriads of dainty cuckoo flowers,
"With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears,"
are likewise to be seen. Farther away from the stream's bank, on the
upland lawn and along the hedge towards the downs, the deep purple of
the hyacinth and orchis, and the perfect blue of the little eyebright or
germander speedwell, are visible even at a distance. In a week the lilac
and sweet honeysuckle will fill the air with grateful redolence.
Ah! a may-fly. But I know this is only a false alarm. There are always a
few stray ones about at this time; the fly will not be "up" for ten days
at least. When it does come, the stream, so smooth and glassy now, will
be "like a pot a-boiling," as the villagers say. You would not think it
possible that a small brook could contain so many big fish as will show
themselves when the fly is up.
In conclusion, we will quote once more from dear old Charles Kingsley,
for what was true fifty years ago is true now--at all events, in this
part of Gloucestershire; and may it ever remain so!
"Come, then, you who want pleasant fishing days without the waste of
time and trouble and expense involved in two hundred miles of railway
journey, and perhaps fifty more of highland road; come to pleasant
country inns, where you can always get a good dinner; or, better still,
to pleasant country houses, where you can always get good society--to
rivers which always fish brimful, instead of being, as these mountain
ones are, very like a turnpike road for three weeks, and then like
bottled porter for three days--to streams on which you have strong
south-west breezes for a week together on a clear fishing water, instead
of having, as on these mountain ones, foul rain spate as long as the
wind is south-west, and clearing water when the wind chops up to the
north,--streams, in a word, where you may kill fish four days out of
five from April to October, instead of having, as you will most probably
in the mountain, just one day's sport in the whole of your
[Illustration: A bridge over the Coln. 171.png]
WHEN THE MAY-FLY IS UP.
"Just in the dubious point where with the pool
Is mix'd the trembling stream, or where it boils
Around the stone, or from the hollow'd bank
Reverted plays in undulating flow,
There throw, nice judging, the delusive fly."
When does the may-fly come, the gorgeous succulent may-fly, that we all
love so well in the quiet valleys where the trout streams wend their
It comes "of a Sunday," answers the keeper, who would fain see the
prejudice against fishing "on the Sabbath" scattered to the four winds
of heaven. He thinks it very contrary of the fly that it should
invariably come up "strong" on the one day in the week on which the
trout are usually allowed a rest.
"'Tis a most comical job, but it always comes up thickest of a Sunday,"
he frequently exclaims. Then, if you press him for further particulars,
he grows eloquent on the subject, and tells you as follows: "We always
reckons to kill the most fish on 'Durby day.' 'Tis a most singular
thing, but the 'Durby day' is always the best."
Now, considering that Derby day is a movable feast, saving that it
always comes on a Wednesday, there would appear to be no more logic in
this statement than there is in the one about the fly coming up strong
on a Sunday. However, so deep rooted is the theory that the Derby and
the cream of the may-fly fishing are inseparably associated that we have
come to talk of the biggest rise of the season as "the Derby day,"
whatever day of the week it may happen to be.
Thus Tom Peregrine, the keeper, when he sees the fly gradually coming
up, will say: "I can see how it will be--next Friday will be Durby day.
You must 'meet' the fly that day; 'be sure and give it the meeting,'
sir. We shall want six rods on the water on Friday." He is so
desperately keen to kill fish that he would sooner have six rods and
moderate sport for each fisherman than three rods and good sport all
round. Wonderfully sanguine is this fellow's temperament:
"A man he seems of cheerful yesterdays
And confident to-morrows."
It is always "just about a good day for fishing" before you start; and
if you have a bad day, he consoles you with an account of an
extraordinary day last week, or one you are to have next week. Sometimes
it was last season that was so good; "or it will be a splendid season
next year," for some reason or other only known to himself.
Three good anglers are quite sufficient for two miles of fishing on the
best of days. Experience has taught us that "too many cooks spoil the
broth" even in the may-fly season.
I shall never forget a most lamentable, though somewhat laughable,
occurrence which took place five years ago. Foolishly responding to the
entreaties of our enthusiastic friend the keeper, we actually did ask
five people to fish one "Durby day." As luck would have it they all
came; but unfortunately a neighbouring squire, who owns part of the
water, but who seldom turns up to fish, also chose that day, and with
him came his son. Seven was bad enough in all conscience, but imagine my
feelings when a waggonette drove up, full of _undergraduates from
Oxford_: my brother, who was one of the undergraduates, had brought them
down on the chance, and without any warning. Of course they all wanted
to fish, though for the most part they were quite innocent of the art of
throwing a fly. Result: ten or a dozen fisherman, all in each other's
way; every rising fish in the brook frightened out of its wits; and very
little sport. The total catch for the day was only thirty trout, or
exactly what three rods ought to have caught.
These were the sort of remarks one had to put up with: "I say, old
chap, there's a d----d fellow in a mackintosh suit up stream; he's
bagged my water"; or, "Who is that idiot who has been flogging away all
the afternoon in one place? Does he think he's beating carpets, or is he
an escaped lunatic from Hanwell?"
The whole thing was too absurd; it was like a fishing competition on the
Thames at Twickenham.
Since this never-to-be-forgotten day I have come to the conclusion that
to have too few anglers is better than too many; also, alas! that it is
quite useless to ask your friends to come unless they are accomplished
fishermen. It takes years of practice to learn the art of catching
south-country trout in these days, when every fish knows as well as we
do the difference between the real fly and the artificial. One might as
well ask a lot of schoolboys to a big "shoot," as issue indiscriminate
invitations to fish.
It is a prochronism to talk of the _May_-fly; for, as a matter of fact,
the first ten days of _June_ usually constitute the may-fly season. Of
late years the rise has been earlier and more scanty than of yore. There
are always several days, however, during the rise when all the biggest
fish in the brook come out from their homes beneath the willows, take up
a favourable place in mid stream, and quietly suck down fly after fly
until they are absolutely stuffed. To have fished on one of these days
in any well-stocked south-country brook is something to look back upon
for many a long day. In a reach of water not exceeding one hundred yards
in length there will be fish enough to occupy you throughout the day.
You may catch seven or eight brace of trout, none of which are under a
pound in weight, where you did not believe any large ones existed. The
fact is, the larger fish of a trout stream are more like rats in their
habits than anything else; they stow themselves away in holes in the
bank and all sorts of inconceivable places, and are as invisible by day
as the otter itself.
That man derives the greatest enjoyment from this annual carnival among
the trout who has been tied to London all through May, sweltering in a
stuffy office and longing for the country. Though his sympathies are
bound up heart and soul in country pursuits, he has elected to "live
laborious days" in the busy haunts of men. He does it, though he hates
it; for he has sufficient insight to know that self-denial in some form
or other is the inevitable destiny of mortal man: sooner or later it has
to be undergone by all, whether we like it or not
"Quanto quisque sibi plura negaverit
Ab dis plura feret"
Horace never wrote anything truer than that, though we are not to
suppose that the second line will necessarily come true in this life.
We will imagine that our friend is a briefless barrister, but a fine,
all-round sportsman; a crack batsman, perhaps, at Eton and Oxford, or
one of whom it might be said:
"Give me the man to whom nought comes amiss,
One horse or another, that country or this--
Who through falls and bad starts undauntedly still
Rides up to the motto, 'Be with them I will.'"
There may be good sportsmen enough enjoying life throughout the country
villages of Merrie England, but in my humble opinion the _best_
sportsmen must be sought in stifling offices in London, or serving
"their country and their Queen" under the burning sun of a far country,
or maybe in the reeking atmosphere of the East End, or as missionaries
in that howling wilderness the inhospitable land of "the
Sitting in his dusty chambers, poring over grimy books and legal
manuscripts, our "briefless" friend receives a telegram which he has
been expecting rather anxiously the last few days. As brief as he is
"briefless," it brings a flush to his cheek which has not been seen
there since that great run with the hounds last Christmas holidays. "The
fly is up; come at once." These are the magic words; and no time is lost
in responding to the invitation, for, as prearranged, he is to start for
Gloucestershire directly the wire arrives.
There is no need to rush off to Mr. Farlow and buy up his stock of
may-flies; for though he does not tie his own flies, our angling friend
has a goodly stock of them neatly arranged in rows of cork inside a
black tin box; and, depend upon it, they are the _right_ ones.
Many a fisherman goes through a lifetime without getting the right flies
for the water on which he angles. It is ten to one that those in the
shops are too light, both in the body and the wing; the may-flies
usually sold are likewise much too big. About half life-size is quite
big enough for the artificial fly, and as a general rule they cannot be
Some years ago we caught a live fly, and took it up to London for the
shopman to copy. "At last," we said to ourselves, "we have got the right
thing." But not a bit of it. The first cast on to the water showed us
that the fly was utterly wrong. It was far too light. The fact is, the
insect itself appears very much darker on the water than it does in the
air. But the artificial fly shows ten times lighter as it floats on the
stream than it does in the shop window.
Dark mottled grey for your wings, and a brown hackle, with a dark rather
than a straw-coloured body, is the kind of fly we find most killing on
the upper Coln. Of course it may be different on other streams, but I
suspect there is a tendency to use too light a fly everywhere, save
among those who have learnt by experience how to catch trout. As Sir
Herbert Maxwell has proved by experiment, trout have no perception of
colour except so far as the fly is light or dark. He found dark blue and
red flies just as killing as the ordinary may-fly.
For the dry-fly fisherman equipment is half the battle. Show me the man
who catches fish; ten to one his rod is well balanced and strong, his
line heavy, though tapered, and his gut well selected and stained. The
fly-book stamps the fisherman even more truly than the topboot stamps
the fox-hunter. Nor does the accomplished expert with the dry fly
disdain with fat of deer to grease his line, nor with paraffin to dress
his fly and make it float. But he keeps the paraffin in a leather case
by itself, so that his coat may not remain redolent for months. From
top to toe he is a fisherman. His boots are thick, even though he does
not require waders; on his knees are leather pads to ward off
rheumatism; whilst on his head is a sober-coloured cap--not a white
straw hat flashing in the sunlight, and scaring the timid trout
Thus appears our sportsman of the Inner Temple not twelve hours after we
saw him stewing in his London chambers. What a metamorphosis is this!
Just as the may-fly, after two years of confinement as a wretched grub
in the muddy bed of the stream, throws off its shackles, gives its wings
a shake, and soars into the glorious June atmosphere, happy to be free,
so does the poor caged bird rejoice, after grubbing for an indefinite
period in a cramped cell, to leave darkness and dirt and gloom (though
not, like the may-fly, for ever), and flee away on wings the mighty
steam provides until he finds himself once again in the fresh green
fields he loves so well. And truly he gets his reward. He has come into
a new world--rather, I should say, a paradise; for he comes when meadows
are green and trees are at their prime. Though the glory of the lilac
has passed away, the buttercup still gilds the landscape; barley fields
are bright with yellow charlock, and the soft, subdued glow of sainfoin
gives colour to the breezy uplands as of acres of pink carnations. On
one side a vast sheet of saffron, on the other a lake of rubies, ripples
in the passing breeze, or breaks into rolling waves of light and shade
as the fleecy clouds sweep across azure skies. He comes when roses, pink
and white and red, are just beginning to hang their dainty heads in
modest beauty on every cottage wall or cluster round the ancient porch;
when from every lattice window in the hamlet (I wish I could say every
_open_ window) rows of red geraniums peep from their brown pots of
terra-cotta, brightening the street without, and filling the cosy rooms
with grateful, unaccustomed fragrance; when the scent of the sweet,
short-lived honeysuckle pervades the atmosphere, and the faces of the
handsome peasants are bronzed as those of dusky dwellers under
No daintie flowre or herbe that grows on ground;
No arborett with painted blossoms drest,
And smelling sweete, but there it might be found,
To bud out faire, and throwe her sweete smels al around.
What a pleasant country is this in which to spend a holiday! How white
are the limestone roads! how fresh and invigorating is the upland air!
The old manor house is deserted, its occupants having gone to London.
But a couple of bachelors can be happy in an empty house, without
servants and modern luxuries, as long as the may-fly lasts. It is
pleasant to feel that you can dine at any hour you please, and wear what
you please. The good lady who cooks for you is merely the wife of one of
the shepherds; but her cooking is fit for a king! What dinner could be
better than a trout fresh from the brook, a leg of lamb from the farm,
and a gooseberry tart from the kitchen garden? For vegetables you may
have asparagus--of such excellence that you scarcely know which end to
begin eating--and new potatoes.
For my part, I would sooner a thousand times live on homely fare in the
country than be condemned to wade through long courses at London dinner
parties, or, worse still, pay fabulous prices at "Willis's Rooms," the
"Berkeley," or at White's Club.
What a comfort, too, to be without housemaids to tidy up your papers in
the smoking-room and shut your windows in the evening! How healthful to
sleep in a room in which the windows have been wide open night and day
for months past!
Sport is usually to be depended upon in the may-fly time, as long as you
are not late for the rise. Of late years the fly has "come up" so early
and in such limited quantities that but few fishermen were on the
water in time.
We are apt to grumble, declaring that the whole river has gone to the
bad; that the fish are smaller and fewer in numbers than of yore,--but
is this borne out by facts? The year 1896 was no doubt rather a failure
as regards the may-fly; but as I glance over the pages of the game-book
in which I record as far as possible every fish that is killed, I cannot
help thinking that sport has been very wonderful, take it all round,
during six out of seven seasons.
It is a lovely day during the last week in May. There has been no rain
for more than a fortnight; the wind is north-east, and the sun shines
brightly,--yet we walk down to the River Coln, anticinating a good day's
sport among the trout: for, during the may-fly season, no matter how
unpropitious the weather may appear, sport is more of a certainty on
this stream than at any other time of year. Early in the season drought
does not appear to have any effect on the springs; we might get no rain
from the middle of April until half-way through June, and yet the water
will keep up and remain a good colour all the time. But after June is
"out," down goes the water, lower and lower every week; no amount of
rain will then make any perceptible increase to the volume of the
stream, and not until the nights begin to lengthen out and the autumnal
gales have done their work will the water rise again to its normal
height. If you ask Tom Peregrine why these things are so, he will only
tell you that after a few gales the "springs be _frum_." The word
"frum," the derivation of which is, Anglo-Saxon, "fram," or "from" =
strong, flourishing, is the local expression for the bursting of
Our friend Tom Peregrine is full of these quaint expressions. When he
sees a covey of partridges dusting themselves in the roads, he will tell
you they are "bathering." A dog hunting through a wood is always said to
be "breveting." "I don't like that dog of So-and-so's, he do 'brevet'
so," is a favourite saying. The ground on a frosty morning "scrumps" or
"feels scrumpety," as you walk across the fields; and the partridges
when wild, are "teert." All these phrases are very happy, the sound of
the words illustrating exactly the idea they are intended to convey.
Besides ordinary Gloucestershire expressions, the keeper has a large
variety that he has invented for himself.
When the river comes down clear, it is invariably described as like
looking into a gin bottle, or "as clear as gin." A trout rising boldly
at a fly is said to "'quap' up," or "boil up," or even "come at it like
a dog." The word "mess" is used to imply disgust of any sort: "I see one
boil up just above that mess of weed"; or, if you get a bit of weed on
the hook, he will exclaim, "Bother! that mess of weed has put him down."
Sometimes he remarks, "Tis these dreadful frostis that spiles
everything. 'Tis enough to sterve anybody." When he sees a bad fisherman
at work, he nods his head woefully and exclaims, "He might as well throw
his 'at in!" Then again, if he is anxious that you should catch a
particular trout, which cannot be persuaded to rise, he always says,
"Terrify him, sir; keep on terrifying of him." This does not mean that
you are to frighten the fish; on the contrary, he is urging you to stick
to him till he gets tired of being harassed, and succumbs to temptation.
All these quaint expressions make this sort of folk very amusing
companions for a day's fishing.
It is eleven o'clock; let us walk down stream until we come to a bend in
the river where the north-east wind is less unfavourable than it is in
most parts. There is a short stretch of two hundred yards, where, as we
fish up stream, the breeze will be almost at our backs, and there are
fish enough to occupy us for an hour or so; afterwards, we shall have to
"cut the wind" as best we can.
As we pass down stream the pale olive duns are hatching out in fair
numbers, and a few fish are already on the move. What lovely, delicate
things are these duns! and how "beautifully and wonderfully are they
made"! If you catch one you will see that it is as delicate and
transparent as it can possibly be. Not even the may-fly can compare with
the dun. And what rare food for trout they supply! For more than six
weeks, from April 1st, they hatch out by thousands every sunny day. The
may-fly may be a total failure, but week after week in the early spring
you may go down to the riverside with but one sort of fly, and if there
are fish to be caught at all, the pale-winged olive dun will catch them;
and in spite of the fact that there are a few may-flies on the water, it
is with the little duns that we intend to start our fishing to-day. The
trout have not yet got thoroughly accustomed to the green-drake, and the
"Durby day" will not be here for a week. It is far better to leave them
"to get reconciled" to the new fly (as the keeper would put it); they
will "quap" up all the better in a few days if allowed, in angling
phraseology, "to get well on to the fly."
On arriving at the spot at which we intend commencing operations, it is
evident that the rise has begun. Happily, everything was in readiness.
Our tapered gut cast has been wetted, and a tiny-eyed fly is at the end.
The gut nearest the hook is as fine as gut can possibly be. Anything
thicker would be detected, for a spring joins the river at this point
and makes the water rather clear. Higher up we need not be so
particular. There is a fish rising fifteen yards above us; so, crouching
low and keeping back from the bank, we begin casting. A leather
kneecap, borrowed from the harness-room, is strapped on to the knee, and
is a good precaution against rheumatism. The first cast is two feet
short of the rise, but with the next we hook a trout. He makes a
tremendous rush, and runs the reel merrily. We manage to keep him out of
the weeds and land him--a silvery "Loch Leven," about three-quarters of
a pound, and in excellent condition. Only two years ago he was put into
the stream with five hundred others as a yearling. The next two rising
fish are too much for us, and we bungle them. One sees the line, owing
to our throwing too far above him, and the other is frightened out of
his life by a bit of weed or grass which gets hitched on to the barb of
the hook, and lands bang on to his nose. These accidents will happen, so
we do not swear, but pass on up stream, and soon a great brown tail
appears for a second just above some rushes on the other side. Kneeling
down again, we manage, after a few casts--luckily short of our fish--to
drop the fly a foot above him. Down it sails, not "cocking" as nicely as
could be wished, but in an exact line for his nose. There is a slight
dimple, and we have got him. For two or three minutes we are at the
mercy of our fish, for we dare not check him--the gut is too fine. But,
lacking condition, he soon tires, and is landed. He is over a pound and
a half, and rather lanky; but kill him we must, for by the size of his
head we can see that he is an old fish, and as bad as a pike for eating
fry. Two half-pounders are now landed in rapid succession, and returned
to the water. Then we hook a veritable monster; but, alas! he makes a
terrific rush down stream, and the gut breaks in the weeds. Of course he
is put down as the biggest fish ever hooked in the water. As a matter of
fact, two pounds would probably "see him." Putting on another olive dun,
we are soon playing a handsome bright fish of a pound, with thick
shoulders and a small head. And a lovely sight he is when we get him out
of the water and knock him on the head.
We now come to a place where some big stones have been placed to make
ripples and eddies, and the stream is more rapid. Glad of the chance of
a rest from the effort of fishing "dry," which is tiring to the wrist
and back, we get closer to the bank, and flog away for five minutes
without success. Suddenly we hear a voice behind, and, looking round,
see our mysterious keeper, who is always turning up unexpectedly,
without one's being able to tell where he has sprung from. "The fish be
all alive above the washpool. I never see such a sight in all my life!"
he breathlessly exclaims.
"All right," we reply; "we'll be up there directly. But let's first of
all try for the big one that lies just above that stone."
"There's one up! ... There's another up! The river's boiling," says our
"That's the big fish," we reply, vigorously flogging the air to dry the
fly; for when there is a big fish about, one always gives him as neatly
a "cocked" fly as is possible.
"_Must_ have him! Bang over him!" exclaims Tom Peregrine excitedly.
But there is no response from the fish.
"Keep _terrifying_ of him, keep _terrifying_ of him," whispers Tom;
"he's bound to make a mistake sooner or later." So we try again, and at
the same moment that the fly floats down over the monster's nose he
moves a foot to the right and takes a live may-fly with a big roll and
"Well, I never! Try him with a may-fly, sir," says Peregrine.
Thinking this advice sound, we hastily put on the first may-fly of the
season; and no sooner have we made our cast than, as Rudyard Kipling
once said to the writer, there is a boil in the water "like the launch
of a young yacht," a tremendous swirl, and we are fast into a famous
trout. Directly he feels the insulting sting of the hook he rushes down
stream at a terrific rate, so that the line, instead of being taut,
dangles loosely on the water. We gather the line through the rings in
breathless haste--there is no time to reel up--and once more get a tight
strain on him. Fortunately there are no weeds here; the current is too
rapid for them. Twice he jumps clean out of the water, his broad,
silvery sides flashing in the sunlight. At length, after a five minutes'
fight, during which our companion never stops talking, we land the best
fish we have caught for four years. Nearly three pounds, he is as "fat
as butter," as bright as a new shilling, with the pinkest of pink spots
along his sides, and his broad back is mottled green. The head is small,
indicating that he is not a "cannibal," but a real, good-conditioned,
pink-fleshed trout. And it is rare in May to catch a big fish that has
grown into condition.
We have now four trout in the basket. "A pretty dish of fish," as
Peregrine ejaculates several times as we walk up stream towards the
washpool. For thirty years he has been about this water, and has seen
thousands of fish caught, yet he is as keen to-day as a boy with his
first trout. As we pass through a wood we question him as to a small
stone hut, which appeared to have fallen out of repair.
"Oh!" he replied, "that was built in the time of the Romans"; and then
he went on to tell us how a _great_ battle was fought in the wood, and
how, about twenty years ago, they had found "a _great_ skeleton of a
man, nearly seven feet long"--a sure proof, he added, that the Romans
had fought here.
As a matter of fact, there are several Roman villas in the
neighbourhood, and there was also fighting hereabouts in the Civil Wars.
But half the country folk look upon everything that happened more than a
hundred years ago as having taken place in the time of the Romans; and
Oliver Cromwell is to them as mythical a personage and belonging to an
equally remote antiquity as Julius Caesar. The Welsh people are just the
same. The other day we were shown a huge pair of rusty scissors whilst
staying in Breconshire. The man who found them took them to the "big
house" for the squire to keep as a curiosity, for, "no doubt," he said,
"they once belonged to _some great king_"!
To our disgust, on reaching the upper water we found it as thick as
pea-soup. Sheep-washing had been going on a mile or so above us. Never
having had any sport under these conditions in past times, we had quite
decided to give up fishing for the day; but Tom Peregrine, who is ever
sanguine, swore he saw a fish rise. To our astonishment, on putting the
fly over the spot, we hooked and landed a large trout Proceeding up
stream, two more were quickly basketed. When the water comes down as
thick as the Thames at London Bridge, after sheep washing, the big trout
are often attracted out of their holes by the insects washed out of the
wool; but they will seldom rise freely to the artificial fly on such
occasions. To-day, oddly enough, they take any fly they can see in the
thick water, and with a "coch-y-bondu" substituted for the may-fly, as
being more easily seen in the discoloured water, any number of fish were
to be caught. But there is little merit and, consequently, little
satisfaction in pulling out big trout under these conditions, so that,
having got seven fish, weighing nine pounds, in the basket, we are
As a rule, it is only in the may-fly season that the biggest fish rise
freely; an average weight of one pound per fish is usually considered
first-rate in the Coln. On this day, however, although the may-fly was
not yet properly up, the big fish, which generally feed at night, had
been brought on the rise by the sheep-washing.
All the way home we are regaled with impossible stories of big fish
taken in these waters, one of which, the keeper says, weighed five
pounds, "all but a penny piece." As a matter of fact, this fish was
taken out of a large spring close to the river; and it is very rarely
that a three-pounder is caught in the Coln above Bibury, whilst anything
over that weight is not caught once in a month of Sundays. Last January,
however, a dead trout, weighing three pounds eight ounces, was found at
Bibury Mill, and a few others about the same size have been taken during
recent years. At Fairford, where the stream is bigger, a five-pounder
was taken during the last may-fly.
We are pleased to find that our friend from London, who has been fishing
the same water, has done splendidly; he has killed six brace of good
trout, besides returning a large number to the water. With a glow of
"Tells from what pool the noblest had been dragg'd;
And where the very monarch of the brook,
After long struggle, had escaped at last."
We laid our combined bag on the cool stone floor in the game larder;
"And verily the silent creatures made
A splendid sight, together thus exposed;
Dead, but not sullied or deformed by death,
That seem'd to pity what he could not spare."
But the killing of trout is only a small part of the pleasure of being
here when the may-fly is up. How pleasant to live almost entirely in the
open air! after the day's fishing is over to rest awhile in the cool
manor house hard by the stream, watching from the window of the
oak-panelled little room the wonders of creation in the garden through
which the river flows! Now, from the recesses of the overhanging boughs
on the tiny island opposite, a moorhen swims forth, cackling and pecking
at the water as she goes. She is followed by five little balls of black
fur--her red-beaked progeny; they are fairly revelling in the evening
sunlight, diving, playing with each other, and thoroughly enjoying life.
Up on the bough of the old fir, bearing its heavy mantle of ivy from
base to topmost twig, and not twenty yards from the window, a thrush
sits and sings. You must watch him carefully ere you assure yourself
that those sweet, trilling notes of peerless music come from that tiny
throat. A rare lesson in voice production he will teach you. Deep
breathing, headnotes clear as a bell and effortless, as only three or
four singers in Europe can produce them, without the slightest sense of
strain or throatiness--such are the songs of our most gifted denizens of
What a wondrous amount of life is visible on an evening such as this!
Among the fast-growing nettles beyond the brook scores of rabbits are
running to and fro, some sitting up on their haunches with ears pricked,
some gamboling round the lichened trunk of the weeping ash tree.
Out of the water may-flies are rising and soaring upwards to circle
round the topmost branches of the firs. Looking upwards, you may see
hundreds of them dancing in unalloyed delight, enjoying their brief
existence in this beautiful world.
Birds of many kinds, swallows and swifts, sparrows, fly-catchers,
blackbirds, robins and wrens, all and sundry are busy chasing the poor
green-drakes. As soon as the flies emerge from their husks and hover
above the surface of the stream, many of them are snapped up. But the
trout have "gone down,"--they are fairly gorged for the day; they will
not trouble the fly any more to-night.
And then those glorious bicycle rides in the long summer evenings, when,
scarcely had the sun gone down beyond the ridge of rolling uplands than
the moon, almost at the full, and gorgeously serene, cast her soft,
mysterious light upon a silent world. One such night two anglers,
gliding softly through the ancient village of Bibury, dismounted from
their machines and stood on the bridge which spans the River Coln. Below
them the peaceful waters flowed silently onwards with all the smoothness
of oil, save that ever and anon rays of silvery moonlight fell in
streaks of radiant whiteness upon its glassy surface.
From beneath the bridge comes the sound of busy waters, a sound, as is
often the case with running water, that you do not hear unless you
listen for it carefully. Close by, too, at the famous spring, crystal
waters are welling forth from the rock, pure and stainless as they were
a thousand years ago. All else is silent in the village. The sky is
flecked by myriads of tiny cloudlets, all separate from each other, and
mostly of one shape and size; but just below the brilliant orb, which
floats serene and proud above the line of mackerel sky, fantastic peaks
of clouds, like far-off snow-capped heights of rugged Alps, are
Suddenly there comes a change. A fairy circle of prismatic colour is
gathering round the moon, beautifying the scene a thousandfold; an inner
girdle of hazy emerald hue immediately surrounds the lurid orb, which is
now seen as "in a glass darkly"; whilst encircling all is a narrow rim
of red light, like the rosy hues of the setting sun that have scarcely
died away in the west. The beauty of this lunar rainbow is enhanced by
the framework of shapely ash trees through whose branches it is seen.
Along the river bank, nestling under the hanging wood, are rows of old
stone cottages, with gables warped a little on one side. One light
shines forth from the lattice window of the ancient mill; but in the
cool thick-walled houses the honest peasants are slumbering in deep,
"Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep.
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God, the very houses seem asleep."
We are in the very heart of England. What a contrast to London at night,
where many a poor fellow must be tossing restlessly in the stifling
As we return towards the old manor house the nightjar, or goatsucker,
is droning loudly, and a nightingale--actually a nightingale!--is
singing in the copse. These birds seldom visit us in the Cotswolds. In
the deserted garden the scent of fresh-mown hay is filling the air, and
"The moping owl doth to the moon complain
Of such as wander near her secret bower."
As we go we pluck some sprigs of fragrant honeysuckle and carry them
indoors. And so to bed, passing on the broad oak staircase the weird
picture of the man who built this rambling old house more than three
hundred years ago.
There is a plain everyday phenomenon connected with pictures, and more
especially photographs, which must have been noticed time after time by
thousands of people; yet I never heard it mentioned in conversation or
saw it in print. I allude to the extraordinary sympathy the features of
a portrait are capable of assuming towards the expression of countenance
of the man who is looking at it. There is something at times almost
uncanny in it. Stand opposite a photograph of a friend when you are
feeling sad, and the picture is sad. Laugh, and the mouth of your friend
seems to curl into a smile, and his eyes twinkle merrily. Relapse into
gloom and despondency, and the smile dies away from the picture. Often
in youth, when about to carry out some design or other, I used to glance
at my late father's portrait, and never failed to notice a look of
approval or condemnation on the face which left its mark on the memory
for a considerable time. The countenance of the grim old gentleman in
the portrait on the stairs ("AETATIS SUAE 92. 1614 A.D.") wore a
distinct air of satisfaction to-night as I passed by on my way to bed;
he always looks pleased after there has been a good day with the hounds,
and likewise in the summer when the may-fly is up.
[Illustration: Burford Priory. 194.png]
BURFORD, A COTSWOLD TOWN.
Burford and Cirencester are two typical Cotswold towns; and perhaps the
first-named is the most characteristic, as it is also the most remote
and old-world of all places in this part of England. It was on a lovely
day in June that we resolved to go and explore the ancient priory and
glorious church of old Burford. A very slow train sets you down at
Bampton, commonly called Bampton-in-the-Bush, though the forest which
gave rise to the name has long since given place to open fields.
There are many other curious names of this type in Gloucestershire and
the adjoining counties. Villages of the same name are often
distinguished from each other by these quaint descriptions of their
various situations. Thus:
Moreton-in-the-Marsh distinguishes from More-ton-on-Lug.
Bourton-on-the-Water distinguishes from Bourton-on-the-Hill.
Stow-on-the-Wold distinguishes from Stowe-Nine-Churches.
Then we find
Shipston-on-Stour and Shipton-under-Whichwood.
Hinton-on-the-Green and Hinton-in-the-Hedges.
Aston-under-Hill and Aston-under-Edge.
It may be noted in passing that the derivation of the word
"Moreton-in-the-Marsh" has ever been the subject of much controversy.
But the fact that the place is on the ancient trackway from Cirencester
to the north, and also that four counties meet here, is sufficient
reason for assigning Morton-hen-Mearc (=) "the place on the moor by the
old boundary" as the probable meaning of the name.
We were fortunate enough to secure an outside seat on the rickety old
"bus" which plies between Bampton and Burford, and were soon slowly
traversing the white limestone road, stopping every now and then to set
down a passenger or deposit a parcel at some clean-looking, stone-faced
cottage in the straggling old villages.
It was indeed a glorious morning for an expedition into the Cotswolds.
The six weeks' drought had just given place to cool, showery weather. A
light wind from the west breathed the fragrance of countless wild
flowers and sweet may blossom from the leafy hedges, and the scent of
roses and honeysuckle was wafted from every cottage garden. After a
month spent amid the languid air and depressing surroundings of London,
one felt glad at heart to experience once again the grand, pure air and
rural scenery of the Cotswold Hills.
What strikes one so forcibly about this part of England, after a sojourn
in some smoky town, is its extraordinary cleanliness.
There is no such thing as _dirt_ in a limestone country. The very mud
off the roads in rainy weather is not dirt at all, sticky though it
undoubtedly is. It consists almost entirely of lime, which, though it
burns all the varnish off your carriage if allowed to remain on it for a
few days, has nothing repulsive about its nature, like ordinary mud.
How pleasant, too, is the contrast between the quiet, peaceful country
life and the restless din and never-ceasing commotion of the "busy
haunts of men"! As we pass along through villages gay with flowers, we
converse freely with the driver of the 'bus, chiefly about fishing. The
great question which every one asks in this part of the world in the
first week in June is whether the may-fly is up. The lovely green-drake
generally appears on the Windrush about this time, and then for ten days
nobody thinks or talks about anything else. Who that has ever witnessed
a real may-fly "rise" on a chalk or limestone stream will deny that it
is one of the most beautiful and interesting sights in all creation?
Myriads of olive-coloured, transparent insects, almost as large as
butterflies, rising out of the water, and floating on wings as light as
gossamer, only to live but one short day; great trout, flopping and
rolling in all directions, forgetful of all the wiles of which they are
generally capable; and then, when the evening sun is declining, the
female fly may be seen hovering over the water, and dropping her eggs
time after time, until, having accomplished the only purpose for which
she has existed in the winged state, she falls lifeless into the stream.
But though these lovely insects live but twenty-four hours, and during
that short period undergo a transformation from the _sub-imago_ to the
_imago_ state, they exist as larvae in the bed of the river for quite
two years from the time the eggs are dropped. The season of 1896 was one
of the worst ever known on some may-fly rivers; probably the great frost
two winters back was the cause of failure. The intense cold is supposed
to have killed the larvae.
The Windrush trout are very large indeed; a five-pound fish is not at
all uncommon. The driver of the 'bus talked of monsters of eight pounds
having been taken near Burford, but we took this _cum grano salis_.
After a five-mile drive we suddenly see the picturesque old town below
us. Like most of the villages of the country, it lies in one of the
narrow valleys which intersect the hills, so that you do not get a view
of the houses until you arrive at the edge of the depression in which
they are built.
Having paid the modest shilling which represents the fare for the five
miles, we start off for the priory. There was no difficulty in finding
our way to it. In all the Cotswold villages and small towns the "big
house" stands out conspicuously among the old cottages and barns and
farmhouses, half hidden as it is by the dense foliage of giant elms and
beeches and chestnuts and ash; nor is Burford Priory an exception to the
rule, though its grounds are guarded by a wall of immense height on one
side. And then once more we get the view we have seen so often on
Cotswold; yet it never palls upon the senses, but thrills us with its
own mysterious charm. Who can ever get tired of the picture presented by
a gabled, mediaeval house set in a framework of stately trees, amid
whose leafy branches the rooks are cawing and chattering round their
ancestral nests, whilst down below the fertilising stream silently
fulfils its never-ceasing task, flowing onwards everlastingly, caring
nothing for the vicissitudes of our transitory life and the hopes and
fears that sway the hearts of successive generations of men?
There the old house stands "silent in the shade"; there are the "nursery
windows," but the "children's voices" no longer break the silence of the
still summer day. Everywhere--in the hall, in the smoking-room, where
the empty gun-cases still hang, and in "my lady's bower,"
"Sorrow and silence and sadness
Are hanging over all."
Until we arrived within a few yards of the front door we had almost
forgotten that the place was a ruin; for though the house is but an
empty shell, almost as hollow as a skull, the outer walls are
absolutely complete and undamaged. At one end is the beautiful old
chapel, built by "Speaker" Lenthall in the time of the Commonwealth.
There is an air of sanctity about this lovely white freestone temple
which no amount of neglect can eradicate. The roof, of fine stucco work,
has fallen in; the elder shrubs grow freely through the crevices in the
broken pavement under foot,--and yet you feel bound to remove your hat
as you enter, for "you are standing on holy ground."
"EXUE CALCEOS, NAM TERRA EST SANCTA."
Over the entrance stands boldly forth this solemn inscription, whilst
angels, wonderfully carved in white stone, watch and guard the sacred
precincts. At the north end of the chapel stands intact the altar, and,
strangely enough, the most perfectly preserved remnants of the whole
building are two white stone tablets plainly setting forth the Ten
Commandments. The sun, as we stood there, was pouring its rays through
the graceful mullioned windows, lighting up the delicate carving,--work
that is rendered more beautiful than ever by the "tender grace of a day
that is dead,"--whilst outside in the deserted garden the birds were
singing sweetly. The scene was sadly impressive; one felt as one does
when standing by the grave of some old friend. As we passed out of the
chapel we could not help reflecting on the hard-heartedness of men fifty
years ago, who could allow this consecrated place, beautiful and fair
as it still is, to fall gradually to the ground, nor attempt to put
forth a helping hand to save it ere it crumbles into dust. How
ungrateful it seems to those whose labour and hard, self-sacrificing
toil erected it two hundred and fifty years ago! Those men of whom
Ruskin wrote: "All else for which the builders sacrificed has passed
away; all their living interests and aims and achievements. We know not
for what they laboured, and we see no evidence of their reward. Victory,
wealth, authority, happiness, all have departed, though bought by many a
It should be mentioned, however, that Mr. R. Hurst is at the present
time engaged in a laudable endeavour to restore this chapel to its
original state. Inside the house the most noteworthy feature of interest
is a remarkably fine ornamental ceiling. Good judges inform us that the
ballroom ceiling at Burford Priory is one of the finest examples of old
work of the kind anywhere to be seen. The room itself is a very large
and well-proportioned one; the oak panels, which completely cover the
walls, still bear the marks of the famous portraits that once adorned
them. Charles I. and Henry Prince of Wales, by Cornelius Jansen; Queen
Henrietta Maria, by Vandyke; Sir Thomas More and his family, by Holbein;
Speaker Lenthall, the former owner of the house; and many other fine
pictures hung here in former times. The staircase is a fine broad
one, of oak.
But now let us leave the inside of the house, which _ought_ to be so
beautiful and bright, and _is_ so desolate and bare, for it is of no
great age, and let us call to mind the picture which Waller painted,
engravings of which used to adorn so many Oxford rooms: "The Empty
Saddle." For, standing in the neglected garden we may see the very
terrace and the angle of the house which were drawn so beautifully by
him. Then, as we stroll through the deserted grounds towards the
peaceful Windrush, where the great trout are still sucking down the poor
short-lived may-flies, let us try to recollect what manner of men used
to walk in these peaceful gardens in the old, stirring times.
Little or nothing is known of the monastery which doubtless existed
somewhere hereabouts prior to the dissolution in Henry VIII.'s reign.
Up to the Conquest the manor of Burford was held by Saxon noblemen. It
is mentioned in Doomsday Book as belonging to Earl Aubrey; but the first
notable man who held it was Hugh le Despencer. This man was one of
Edward II.'s favourites, and was ultimately hung, by the queen's
command, at the same time that Edward was committed to Kenilworth
Castle. Burford remained with his descendants till the reign of Henry
V., when it passed by marriage to a still more notable man, in the
person of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the "kingmaker." Space does
not allow us to romance on the part that this great warrior played in
the history of those times; Lord Lytton has done that for us in his
splendid book, "The Last of the Barons." Suffice it to say that he left
an undying fame to future generations, and fell in the Wars of the Roses
when fighting at the battle of Barnet against the very man he had set on
the throne. The almshouses he built for Burford are still to be seen
hard by the grand old church.
"For who lived king, but I could dig his grave?
And who durst smile, when Warwick bent his brow?
Lo, now my glory's smear'd in dust and blood!
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had,
Even now forsake me; and of all my lands,
Is nothing left me, but my body's length!"
3 _King Henry VI_., V. ii.
In the reign of Henry VIII. this manor, having lapsed to the Crown, was
granted to Edmund Harman, the royal surgeon. Then in later days Sir John
Fortescue, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth, got hold of
it, and eventually sold it to Sir Lawrence Tanfield, a great judge in
those times. The latter was buried "at twelve o'clock in the Night" in
the church of Burford; and there is a very handsome aisle there and an
immense monument to his memory. The Tanfield monument, though somewhat
ugly and grotesque, is a wonderful example of alabaster work. The cost
of erecting it and the labour bestowed must have been immense. It was
this knight who built the great house of which the present ruins form
part, and the date would probably be about 1600. But in 1808 nearly half
the original building is supposed to have been pulled down, and what was
allowed to remain, with the exception of the chapel, has been very
It was in the time of Lucius Carey's (second Lord Falkland) ownership of
this manor that the place was in the zenith of its fame. This
accomplished man, whose father had married Chief Justice Tanfield's
only daughter, succeeded his grandfather in the year 1625. He gathered
together, either here or at Great Tew, a few miles away, half the
literary celebrities of the day. Ben Jonson, Cowley, and Chillingworth
all visited Falkland from time to time. Lucius Carey afterwards became
the ill-fated King Charles's Secretary of State, an office which he
conscientiously filled until his untimely death.
Falkland left little literary work behind him of any mark, yet of no
other man of those times may it be said that so great a reputation for
ability and character has been handed down to us. Novelists and authors
delight in dwelling on his good qualities. Even in this jubilee year of
1897 the author of "Sir Kenelm Digby" has written a book about the
Falklands. Whyte Melville, too, made him the hero of one of his novels,
describing him as a man in whose outward appearance there were no
indications of the intellectual superiority he enjoyed over his fellow
men. Indeed, as with Arthur Hallam in our own times, so it was with
Falkland in the mediaeval age. Neither left behind them any work of
their own by which future generations could realise their abilities and
almost godlike charm, yet each has earned a kind of immortality through
being honoured and sung by the pens of the greatest writers of his
That great, though somewhat bombastic, historian, Lord Clarendon, tells
us that Falkland was "a person of such prodigious parts of learning and
knowledge, of that inimitable sweetness and delight in conversation, of
so flowing and obliging a humanity and goodness to mankind, and of that
primitive simplicity and integrity of life, that if there were no other
brand upon this odious and accursed Civil War than that single loss, it
must be most infamous and execrable to all posterity." From the same
authority we learn that although he was ever anxious for peace, yet he
was the bravest of the brave. At the battle of Newbury he put himself in
the first rank of Lord Byron's regiment, when he met his end through a
musket shot. "Thus," says Clarendon, "fell that incomparable young man,
in the four-and-thirtieth year of his age, having so much despatched the
true business of life that the eldest rarely attain to that immense
knowledge, and the youngest enter not into the world with more
When it is remembered that Falkland was not a soldier at all, but a
learned scholar, whose natural proclivities were literature and the arts
of peace, his self-sacrifice and bravery cannot fail to call forth
admiration for the man, and we cannot but regret his untimely end.
King Charles was several times at Burford, for it was the scene of much
fighting in the Civil Wars.
It was in the year 1636 that Speaker Lenthall purchased Burford Priory.
He was a man of note in those troublous times, and even Cromwell seems
to have respected him; for, although the latter came down to the House
one day with a troop of musketeers, with the express intention of
turning the gallant Speaker out of his chair, and effected his object
amid the proverbial cries of "Make way for honester men!" yet we find
that within twelve months the crafty old gentleman had once more got
back again into the chair, and remained Speaker during the Protectorate
of Richard Cromwell. He declared on his deathbed that, although, like
Saul, he held the clothes of the murderers, yet that he never consented
to the death of the king, but was deceived by Cromwell and his agents.
The priory remained in the Lenthall family up to the year 1821. At the
present time it belongs to the Hurst family.
We have now briefly traced the history of the manor from the time of the
Conquest, and, doubtless, all the men whose names occur have spent a
good deal of time on this beautiful spot.
Alas that the garden should be but a wilderness! The carriage drive
consists of rich green turf. In a summer-house in the grounds John
Prior, Speaker Lenthall's faithful servant, was murdered in the year
1697. The Earl of Abercorn was accused of the murder, but was acquitted.
In addition to King Charles I., many other royal personages have visited
this place. Queen Elizabeth once visited the town, and came with
The Burgesses' Book has a note to the effect that in 1663 twenty-one
pounds was paid for three saddles presented to Charles II. and his
brother the Duke of York. Burford was celebrated for its saddles in
those days. It was a great racing centre, and both here and at Bibury
(ten miles off) flat racing was constantly attracting people from all
parts. Bibury was a sort of Newmarket in old days. Charles II. was at
Burford on three occasions at least.
It was in the year 1681 that the Newmarket spring meeting was
transferred to Bibury. Parliament was then sitting at Oxford, some
thirty miles away; so that the new rendezvous was more convenient than
the old. Nell Gwynne accompanied the king to the course. For a hundred
and fifty years the Bibury club held its meetings here. The oldest
racing club in England, it still flourishes, and will in future hold its
meetings near Salisbury.
In 1695 King William III. came to Burford in order to influence the
votes in the forthcoming parliamentary election. Macaulay tells us that
two of the famous saddles were presented to this monarch, and remarks
that one of the Burford saddlers was the best in Europe. William III.
slept that night at the priory. The famous "Nimrod," in his "Life of a
Sportsman," gives us a picture, by Alken, of Bibury racecourse, and
tells us how gay Burford was a hundred years ago:
"Those were Bibury's very best days. In addition to the presence of
George IV., then Prince of Wales, who was received by Lord Sherborne for
the race week at his seat in the neighbourhood, and who every day
appeared on the course as a private gentleman, there was a galaxy of
gentlemen jockeys, who alone rode at this meeting, which has never since
been equalled. Amongst them were the Duke of Dorset, who always rode for
the Prince; the late Mr. Delme-Radcliffe; the late Lords Charles
Somerset and Milsington; Lord Delamere, Sir Tatton Sykes, and many other
"I well remember the scenes at Burford and all the neighbouring towns
after the races were over. That at Burford 'beggars' description; for,
independently of the bustle occasioned by the accommodation necessary
for the club who were domiciled in the town, the concourse of persons of
all sorts and degrees was immense."
Old Mr. Peregrine told me the other day that during the race week the
shopkeepers at Bibury village used to let their bedrooms to the
visitors, and sleep on the shop board, while the rest of the family
slept underneath the counter.
* * * * *
Ah well! _Tempora mutantur!_ "Nimrod" and his "notables" are all gone.
"The knights' bones are dust,
And their good swords rust,
Their souls are with the saints, I trust."
And whereas up to fifty years ago Burford was a rich country town,
famous for the manufacture of paper, malt, and sailcloth--enriched, too,
by the constant passage of numerous coaches stopping on their way from
Oxford to Gloucester--it is now little more than a village--the
quietest, the cleanest, and the quaintest place in Oxfordshire. Perhaps
its citizens are to be envied rather than pitied:
"bene est cui deus obtulit
Parca, quod satis est, manu."
Let us go up to the top of the main street, and sit down on the ancient
oak bench high up on the hill, whence we can look down on the old-world
place and get a birdseye view of the quaint houses and the surrounding
country. And now we may exclaim with Ossian, "A tale of the times of
old! The deeds of days of other years!" For yonder, a mile away from the
town, the kings of Mercia and Wessex fought a desperate battle in the
year A.D. 685. Quite recently a tomb was found there containing a stone
coffin weighing nearly a ton. The bones of the warrior who fought and
died there were marvellously complete when disturbed in their
resting-place--in fact, the skeleton was a perfect one.
"Whose fame is in that dark green tomb? Four stones with their heads of
moss stand there. They mark the narrow house of death. Some chief of
fame is here! Raise the songs of old! Awake their memory in the
[Footnote 4: Ossian.]
Tradition has it that this was the body of a great Saxon chief,
Aethelhum, the mighty standard-bearer of the Mercian King Ethelbald. It
was in honour of this great warrior that the people of Burford carried a
standard emblazoned with a golden dragon through the old streets on
midsummer eve, annually, for nigh on a thousand years. We are told that
it was only during last century that the custom died out.
How beautiful are some of the old houses in the broad and stately High
The ancient building in the centre of the town is called the "Tolsey";
it must be more than four hundred years old. The name originated in the
custom of paying tolls due to the lord of the manor in the building.
There are some grand old iron chests here; one of these old boxes
contains many interesting charters and deeds, some of them bearing the
signatures of chancellors Morton, Stephen Gardiner, and Ellesmere. There
are letters from Elizabeth, and an order from the Privy Council with
Arlington's signature attached. "The stocks" used to stand on the north
side of this building, but have lately been removed. Then the houses
opposite the Tolsey are as beautiful as they possibly can be. They are
fifteenth century, and have oak verge-boards round their gables, carved
in very delicate tracery.
Another house has a wonderful cellar, filled with grandly carved
stonework, like the aisle of a church; this crypt is probably more than
five hundred years old. Perhaps this vaulted Gothic chamber is a remnant
of the old monastery, the site of which is not known. Close by is an
ancient building, now turned into an inn; and this also may have been
part of the dwelling-place of the monks of Burford. From the vaulted
cellar beneath the house, now occupied by Mr. Chandler, ran an
underground passage, evidently connected with some other building.
How sweetly pretty is the house at the foot of the bridge, as seen from
the High Street above! The following inscription stands out prominently
on the front:--
"SYMON WYSDOM ALDERMAN
THE FYRST FOUNDER OR THE SCHOLE
IN BURFORD GAVE THE TENEMENES
IN A.D. 1577."
The old almshouses on the green by the church have an inscription to
the effect that they were founded by Richard Earl of Warwick (the
kingmaker), in the year 1457. They were practically rebuilt about
seventy years ago; but remnants of beautiful Gothic architecture still
remain in the old stone belfry, and here and there a piece of tracery
has been preserved. In all parts of the town one suddenly alights upon
beautiful bits of carved stone--an Early English gateway in one street,
and lancet doorways to many a cottage in another. Oriel windows are also
plentiful. Behind the almshouses is a cottage with massive buttresses,
and everywhere broken pieces of quaint gargoyles, pinnacles, and other
remnants of Gothic workmanship are to be seen lying about on the walls
and in odd corners. A careful search would doubtless reveal many a fine
piece of tracery in the cottages and buildings. At some period, however,
vandalism has evidently been rampant. Happening to find our way into the
back premises of an ancient inn, we noticed that the coals were heaped
up against a wall of old oak panelling.
And now we come to the most beautiful piece of architecture in the
place--the magnificent old church. It is grandly situated close to the
banks of the Windrush, and is more like a cathedral than a village
church. The front of the porch is worked with figures representing our
Lord, St. Mary Magdalene, and St. John the Evangelist; but the heads
were unfortunately destroyed in the Civil Wars. Inside the porch the
rich fan-tracery, which rises from the pilasters on each side, is carved
with consummate skill.
Space does not allow us to dwell on the grandeur of the massive Norman
tower, the great doorway at the western entrance with its splendid
moulding, the quaint low arch leading from nave to chancel, and the
other specimens of Norman work to be seen in all parts of this
magnificent edifice. Nor can we do justice to the glorious nave, with
its roof of oak; nor the aisles and the chancel; nor the beautiful
Leggare chapel, with its oak screen, carved in its upper part in
fifteenth-century tracery, its faded frescoes and ancient altar tomb.
The glass of the upper portion of the great west window and the window
of St Thomas' chapel are indeed "labyrinths of twisted tracery and
starry light" such as would delight the fastidious taste of Ruskin.
Several pages might easily be written in describing the wonderful and
grotesque example of alabaster work known as the Tanfield tomb. The only
regret one feels on gazing at this grand old specimen of the toil of our
simple ancestors is that it is seldom visited save by the natives of
rural Burford, many of whom, alas! must realise but little the
exceptional beauty and stateliness of the lovely old church with which
they have been so familiar all their lives.
A few years ago Mr. Oman, Fellow of All Souls', Oxford, made a curious
discovery. Whilst going through some documents that had been for many
years in the hands of the last survivor of the ancient corporation, and
being one of the few men in England in a position to identify the
handwriting, he came across a deed or charter signed by "the great
kingmaker" himself; it was in the form of a letter, and had reference
to the gift of almshouses he made to Burford in 1457 A.D. The boldly
written "R.I. Warrewyck" at the end is the only signature of the
kingmaker's known to exist save the one at Belvoir. In this letter
prayers are besought for the founder and the Countess Anne his wife,
whilst attached to it is a seal with the arms of Neville, Montacute,
Despencer, and Beauchamp.
On the font in the church is a roughly chiselled name:
"ANTHONY SEDLEY. 1649. Prisner."
Not only prisoners, but even their _horses_, were shut up in these grand
old churches during the Civil Wars. This Anthony Sedley must have been
one of the three hundred and forty Levellers who were imprisoned here
The register has the following entry:--
"1649. Three soldiers shot to death in Burford Churchyard, buried May
Burford was the scene of a good deal of fighting during the Civil Wars.
On January 1st, 1642, in the dead of night, Sir John Byron's regiment
had a sharp encounter with two hundred dragoons of the Parliamentary
forces. A fierce struggle took place round the market cross, during
which Sir John Byron was wounded in the face with a poleaxe. Cromwell's
soldiers, however, were routed and driven out of the town.
In the parish register is the following entry :--
"1642. Robert Varney of Stowe, slain in Burford and buried January 1st.
"1642. Six soldiers slain in Burford, buried 2nd January.
"1642. William Junks slain with the shot of musket, buried January 10th.
"1642. A soldier hurt at Cirencester road was buried."
Many other entries of the same nature are to be seen in the parish
The old market cross of Burford has indeed seen some strange things. Mr.
W.J. Monk, to whose "History of Burford" I am indebted for valuable
information, tells us that the penance enjoined on various citizens of
Burford for such crimes as buying a Bible in the year 1521 was as
"Everyone to go upon a market day thrice about the market of Burford,
and then to stand up upon the highest steps of the cross there, a
quarter of an hour, with a faggot of wood upon his shoulder.
"Everyone also to beare a faggot of wood before the procession on a
certain Sunday at Burford from the Quire doore going out, to the quire
doore going in, and once to bear a faggot at the burning of a heretic.
"Also none of them to hide their mark [+] upon their cheek (branded
in)," etc., etc.
"In the event of refusal, they were to be given up to the civil
authorities to be burnt."
[Illustration: The Manor-House, Coln St. Aldwyns. 214.png]
A STROLL THROUGH THE COTSWOLDS.
These high, wild hills and rough, uneven ways
Draw out our miles, and make them wearisome."
_King Richard II_.
It cannot be said that there are many pleasant walks and drives in the
Cotswold country, because, as a rule, the roads run over the bleak
tableland for miles and miles, and the landscape generally consists of
ploughed fields divided by grey stone walls; the downs I have referred
to at different times are only to be met with in certain districts. Once
upon a time the whole of Cotswold was one vast sheep walk from beginning
to end. It was about a hundred and fifty years ago that the idea of
enclosing the land was started by the first Lord Bathurst. Early in the
eighteenth century he converted a large tract of downland round
Cirencester into arable fields; his example was soon followed by others,
so that by the middle of last century the transformation of three
hundred square miles of downs into wheat-growing ploughed fields had
been accomplished. It is chiefly owing to the depression in agricultural
produce that there are any downs now, for they merely exist because the
tenants have found during the last twenty years that it does not pay to
cultivate their farms, hence they let a large proportion go back
But there is one very pleasant walk in that part of the Cotswolds we
know best, and this takes you up the valley of the Coln to the Roman
villa at Chedworth.
The distance by road from Fairford to the Chedworth woods is about
twelve miles; and at any time of the year, but more especially in the
spring and autumn, it is a truly delightful pilgrimage.
And here it is worth our while to consider for a moment how tremendously
the abolition of the stage coach has affected places like Fairford,
Burford, and other Cotswold towns and villages. It was through these
old-world places, past these very walls and gables, that the mail
coaches rattled day after day when they "went down with victory"
conveying the news of Waterloo and Trafalgar into the heart of merry
England. In his immortal essay on "The English Mail Coach," De Quincey
has told us how between the years 1805 and 1815 it was worth paying
down five years of life for an outside place on a coach "going down with
victory." "On any night the spectacle was beautiful. The absolute
perfection of all the appointments about the carriages and the harness,
their strength, their brilliant cleanliness, their beautiful
simplicity--but more than all, the royal magnificence of the
horses--were what might first have fixed the attention. But the night
before us is a night of victory: and behold! to the ordinary display
what a heart-shaking addition! horses, men, carriages, all are dressed
in laurels and flowers, oak leaves and ribbons." The brilliancy of the
royal liveries, the thundering of the wheels, the tramp of those
generous horses, the sounding of the coach horn in the calm evening air,
and last, but not least, the intense enthusiasm of travellers and
spectators alike, as amid such cries as "Salamanca for ever!" "Hurrah
for Waterloo!" they cheered and cheered again, letting slip the dogs of
victory throughout those old English villages,--all these things must
have united the hearts of the classes and masses in one common bond,
rendering such occasions memorable for ever in the hearts of the simple
country folk. In small towns like Burford and Northleach, situated five
or six miles from any railway station, the prosperity and happiness of
the natives has suffered enormously by the decay of the stage coach; and
even in smaller villages the cheering sound of the horn must have been
very welcome, forming as it did a connecting link between these remote
hamlets of Gloucestershire and the great metropolis a hundred
Fairford Church is known far and wide as containing the most beautiful
painted glass of the early part of the sixteenth century to be found
anywhere in England. The windows, twenty-eight in number, are usually
attributed to Albert Duerer; but Mr. J.G. Joyce, who published a treatise
on them some twenty years ago, together with certain other high
authorities, considered them to be of English design and workmanship.
They would doubtless have been destroyed in the time of the Civil Wars
by the Puritans had they not been taken down and hidden away by a member
of the Oldysworth family, whose tomb is in the middle chancel.
John Tame, having purchased the manor of Fairford in 1498, immediately
set about building the church. He died two years later, and his son
completed the building, and also erected two other very fine churches in
the neighbourhood--those at Rendcombe and Barnsley. He was a great
benefactor to the Cotswold country. Leland tells us that the town of
Fairford never flourished "before the cumming of the Tames into it."
You may see John Tame's effigy on his tomb, together with that of his
wife, and underneath these pathetic lines:
"For thus, Love, pray for me.
I may not pray more, pray ye:
With a pater noster and an ave:
That my paynys relessyd be."
If I remember rightly his helmet and other parts of his armour still
hang on the church wall. Leland describes Fairford as a "praty
uplandish towne," meaning, I suppose, that it is situated on high
ground. It is certainly a delightful old-fashioned place--a very good
type of what the Cotswold towns are like. Chipping-Campden and Burford
are, however, the two most typical Cotswold towns I know.
In the year 1850 a remarkable discovery was made in a field close to
Fairford. No less than a hundred and fifty skeletons were unearthed, and
with them a large number of very interesting Anglo-Saxon relics, some of
them in good preservation. In many of the graves an iron knife was found
lying by the skeleton; in others the bodies were decorated with bronze
fibulae, richly gilt, and ornamented in front. Mr. W. Wylie, in his
interesting account of these Anglo-Saxon graves, tells us that some of
the bodies were as large as six feet six inches; whilst one or two
warriors of seven feet were unearthed. All the skeletons were very
perfect, even though no signs of any coffins were to be seen. Bronze
bowls and various kinds of pottery, spearheads of several shapes, a
large number of coloured beads, bosses of shields, knives, shears, and
two remarkably fine swords were some of the relics found with the
bodies. A glass vessel, coloured yellow by means of a chemical process
in which iron was utilised, is considered by Mr. Wylie to be of Saxon
manufacture, and not Venetian or Roman, as other authorities hold.
Whether this is merely an Anglo-Saxon burial-place, or whether the
bodies are those of the warriors who fell in a great battle such as that
fought in A.D. 577, when the Saxons overthrew the Britons and took from
them the cities of Gloucester, Cirencester, and Bath, it is impossible
to determine. The natives are firmly convinced that the skeletons
represent the slain in a great battle fought near this spot; but this is
only tradition. At all events, the words of prophecy attributed to the
old Scotch bard Ossian have a very literal application with reference to
this interesting relic of bygone times: "The stranger shall come and
build there and remove the heaped-up earth. An half-worn sword shall
rise before him. Bending above it, he will say, 'These are the arms of
the chiefs of old, but their names are not in song.'" The "heaped-up"
earth has long ago disappeared, for there are no "barrows" now to be
seen. Cottages stand where the old burial mounds doubtless once existed,
and all monumental evidences of those mighty men--the last, perhaps, of
an ancient race--have long since been destroyed by the ruthless hand
The manor of Fairford now belongs to the Barker family, to whom it came
through the female line about a century ago.
We must now leave Fairford, and start on our pilgrimage to the Roman
villa of Chedworth. At present we have not got very far, having lingered
at our starting-point longer than we had intended. The first two miles
are the least interesting of the whole journey; the Coln, broadened out
for some distance to the size of a lake, is hidden from our view by the
tall trees of Fairford Park. It was along this road that John Keble, the
poet used to walk day by day to his cure at Coln-St.-Aldwyns. His home
was at Fairford. Two eminent American artists have made their home in
Fairford during recent years--Mr. Edwin Abbey and Mr. J. Sargent, both
R.A's. Close by, too, at Kelmscott, dwelt William Morris, the poet.
On reaching Quenington we catch a glimpse of the river, whilst high up
on the hill to our right stands the great pile of Hatherop Castle. This
place, the present owner of which is Sir Thomas Bazley, formerly
belonged to the nunnery of Lacock. After the suppression of the
monasteries it passed through various heiresses to the family of Ashley.
It was practically rebuilt by William Spencer Ponsonby, first Lord de
Mauley; his son, Mr. Ashley Ponsonby, sold it to Prince Duleep Singh,
from whom it passed to the present owner. Sir Thomas Bazley has done
much for the village which is fortunate enough to claim him as a
resident; his estate is a model of what country estates ought to be,
unprofitable though it must have proved as an investment.
As we pass on through the fair villages of Quenington and
Coln-St.-Aldwyns we cannot help noticing the delightful character of the
houses from a picturesque point of view; in both these hamlets there are
the same clean-looking stone cottages and stone-tiled roofs. Here and
there the newer cottages are roofed with ordinary slate; and this seems
a pity. Nevertheless, there still remains much that is picturesque to be
seen on all sides. Roses grow in every garden, clematis relieves with
its rich purple shade the walls of many a cosy little dwelling-house,
and the old white mills, with their latticed windows and pointed
gables, are a feature of every tiny hamlet through which the
"How gay the habitations that adorn
This fertile valley! Not a house but seems
To give assurance of content within,
Embosom'd happiness, and placid love."
The beautiful gabled house close to the Norman church of
Coln-St.-Aldwyns is the old original manor house. Inside it is an old
oak staircase, besides other interesting relics of the Elizabethan age.
For many years this has been a farmhouse, but it has recently been
restored by its owner, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, the present Chancellor
of the Exchequer, who intends to make it his country abode. A piece of
carved stone with four heads was discovered by the workmen engaged in
the restoration, and is to be placed over the front door. It is
doubtless a remnant of an old monastery, and dates back to Norman times.
Williamstrip House and Park lie on your right-hand side as you leave the
village of "Coln" behind you. This place also belongs to Sir Michael
Hicks-Beach; it has always seemed to us the _beau-ideal_ of an English
home. A medium-sized, comfortable square house of the time of George I.,
surrounded by some splendid old trees, in a park not too large, a couple
of miles or so of excellent trout-fishing, very fair shooting, and good
hunting would seem to be a combination of sporting advantages that few
country places enjoy. Williamstrip came into the family of the present
owner in 1784. The three parishes of Hatherop, Quenington, and
Coln-St.-Aldwyns practically adjoin each other. Each has its beautiful
church, the Norman doorways in that of Quenington being well worth a
visit. Close to the church of Quenington are the remnants of an ancient
The "Knights Templar" of Quenington were famous in times gone by. There
is a fine entrance gate and porch on the roadside, which no doubt led to
There is little else left to remind us of these Knights Templar. Here
and there are an old lancet window or a little piece of Gothic tracery
on an ancient wall, an old worm-eaten roof of oak or a heap of ruined
stones on a moat-surrounded close,--these are all the remnants to be
found of the days of chivalry and the monks of old.
We have now two rather uneventful miles to traverse between
Coln-St.-Aldwyns and Bibury, for we must once more leave the valley and
set out across the bleak uplands. On the high ground we have the
advantage of splendid bracing air at all events. The hills have a charm
of their own on a fine day, more especially when the fields are full of
golden corn and the old-fashioned Cotswold men are busy among
And very soon we get a view which we would gladly have walked twenty
miles to see. Down below us and not more than half a mile away is the
fine old Elizabethan house of Bibury, standing out from a background of
magnificent trees. Close to the house is the grey Norman tower of the
village church, which has stood there for mote than six centuries.
Nestling round about are the old stone-roofed cottages, like those we
have seen in the other villages we have passed through. A broad reach of
the Coln and a grand waterfall enhance the quiet and peaceful beauty of
the scene. But this description falls very short of conveying any
adequate idea of the truly delightful effect which the old grey
buildings set in a framework of wood and water present on a fine
Never shall I forget seeing this old place from the hill above during
one September sunset. There was a marvellous glow suffused over the
western sky, infinitely beautiful while it lasted; and immediately below
a silvery mist had risen from the surface of the broad trout stream, and
was hanging over the old Norman tower of the church. Amid the rush of
the waterfall could be heard the distant voices of children in the
village street. Then on a sudden the church clock struck the hour of
six, in deep, solemn tones. Against the russet-tinted woods in the
background the old court house stood out grey and silent under the
shadow of the church tower, preaching as good a sermon as any I
"An English home, grey twilight poured
On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
Softer than sleep,--all things in order stored,
A haunt of ancient peace."
Bibury Court is a most beautiful old house. Some of it dates back to
Henry VIII.'s time. The most remarkable characteristic of its interior
is a very fine carved oak staircase. The greater part of this house was
built in the year 1623 by Sir Thomas Sackville. It was long the seat of
the Creswell family, before passing by purchase to the family of the
present owner--Lord Sherborne. The fine old church has some Saxon work
in it, whilst the doorways and many other portions are Norman. Its
delightful simplicity and brightness is what pleases one most. On coming
down into the village, one notices a little square on the left, not at
all like those one sees in London, but very picturesque and clean
looking. In the olden times were to be seen in many villages little
courts of this kind; in the centre of them was usually a great tree,
round which the old people would sit on summer evenings, while the
children danced and played around. Gilbert White speaks of one at
Selborne, which he calls the "Plestor." The original name was
"Pleystow," which means a play place. We have noticed them in many parts
of the Cotswold country. Here, too, children are playing about under the
shade of some delightful trees in the centre of the miniature square,
whilst the variegated foliage sets off the gabled cottages which form
three sides of it.
I have often wondered, as I stood by these chestnut trees, whether there
is any architecture more perfect in its simplicity and grace than that
which lies around me here. Not a cottage is in sight that is not worthy
of the painter's brush; not a gable or a chimney that would not be
worthy of a place in the Royal Academy. The little square is bordered
for six months of the year with the prettiest of flowers. Even as late
as December you may see roses in bloom on the walls, and chrysanthemums
of varied shade in every garden. Then, as we passed onwards,
"On the stream's bank, and everywhere, appeared
Fair dwellings, single or in social knots;
Some scattered o'er the level, others perch'd
On the hill-sides--a cheerful, quiet scene."
There is a Gothic quaintness about all the buildings in the Cotswolds,
great and small alike, which is very charming. Bibury is indeed a pretty
village. As you walk along the main street which runs parallel with the
river, an angler is busy "swishing" his rod violently in the air to
"dry" the fly, ere he essays to drop it over the nose of one of the
speckled fario which abound; so be careful to step down off the path
which runs alongside the stream, in case you should put the fish "down"
and spoil the sport. And now on our left, beyond the green, may be seen
a line of gabled cottages called "Arlington Row," a picture of which by
G. Leslie was hung at the Royal Academy this year (1898).
A few hundred yards on you stop to inspect the spring which rises in the
garden of the Swan Hotel. It has been said that two million gallons a
day is the minimum amount of water poured out by this spring. It
consists of the rain, which, falling on a large area of the hill
country, gradually finds its way through the limestone rocks and
eventually comes out here. It would be interesting to trace the course
of some of these underground rivers; for a torrent of water such as this
cannot flow down through the soft rock without in the course of
thousands of years, producing caves and grottoes and underground
galleries and all the wonders of the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, with its
stalactite pillars and fairy avenues and domes--though the Cotswold
caves are naturally on a much smaller scale. At Torquay and on the
Mendip Hills, as everybody knows, there are caves of wondrous beauty,
carved by the water within the living rock.
Probably within a hundred yards of Bibury spring there are beautiful
hidden caves, such as those funny little "palaeolithic" men lived in a
few thousand years ago; but why there have not been more discoveries of
this nature in this part of the Cotswolds it is difficult to say. There
is a cave hereabouts, men say, but the entrance to it cannot now be
found. There is likewise a Roman villa on the hill here which has not
yet been dug out of its earthy bed. A hundred years ago a large number
of Roman antiquities were discovered near this village.
We now leave Bibury behind us, and a mile on we pass through the hamlet
of Ablington, which is very like Bibury on a smaller scale, with its
ancient cottages, tithe barns and manor house; its springs of
transparent water, its brook, and wealth of fine old trees. We have no
time to linger in this hamlet to-day, though we would fain pause to
admire the old house.
"The pillar'd porch, elaborately embossed;
The low, wide windows with their mullions old;
The cornice richly fretted of grey stone;
And that smooth slope from which the dwelling rose
By beds and banks Arcadian of gay flowers,
And flowering shrubs, protected and adorned."
After leaving Ablington we once more ascend the hill and make our way
along an old, disused road, probably an ancient British track, in
preference to keeping to the highway--in the first place because it is
by far the shortest, and secondly because we intend to go somewhat out
of our way to inspect two ancient barrows, the resting-place of the
chiefs of old, of whom Ossian (or was it Macpherson?) sang: "If fall
I must in the field, raise high my grave. Grey stones and heaped-up
earth shall mark me to future times. When the hunter shall sit by the
mound and produce his food at noon, 'Some warrior rests here,' he will
say; and my fame shall live in his praise."
[Footnote 5: In spite of Dr. Johnson and other eminent critics, one
cannot help believing in the genuineness of some of the poems attributed
to Ossian. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating"; and those
wonderful old songs are too wild and lifelike to have had their origin
in the eighteenth century. Macpherson doubtless enlarged upon the
originals, but he must have had a good foundation to work upon.]
A very large barrow lies about a mile out of our track to the right
hand; as it is somewhat different from the other barrows in the
neighbourhood, we will briefly describe it. It is a "long barrow," with
the two horns at one end that are usually associated with "long"
barrows. In the middle of the curve between these ends stands a great
stone about five feet square, not very unlike our own gravestones,
though worn by the rains of thousands of years. The mound is surrounded
by a double wall of masonry. At the north end, when it was opened forty
years ago, a chamber was found containing human bones. It is supposed
that this mound was the burying-place of a race which dwelt on Cotswold
at least three thousand years ago. From the nature of the stone
implements found, it is conjectured that the people who raised it were
unacquainted with the use of metal.
Now we will have a look at another barrow a few fields away. This is a
mound of a somewhat later age; for it was raised over the ashes of a
body or bodies that had been cremated. It was probably the Celts who
raised this barrow. The other day it was opened for a distinguished
society of antiquaries to inspect; they found that in the centre were
stones carefully laid, encircling a small chamber, whilst the outer
portions were of ordinary rubble. Nothing but lime-dust and dirt was
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