Relics and Relies

Trip Start Aug 24, 2012
Trip End Oct 17, 2012

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Where I stayed
Premier Inn Banbury
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, September 9, 2012

Off again - this time to the south - hoping eventually to get near to the area my mother came from. We felt a bit like the 3 musketeers - us two and my brother in law - off to seek adventure (no point in looking for fortune!). First up on the journey was a visit to Snowshill Manor a querky place, to put it mildly. This delightful house, made of Cotswold stone, originated in the 16 century, added to bit by bit and fell into disrepair early in the 20 century. It was rescued and renovated after the 1st World War by a rather strange bloke called Charles Wade. Wade had a background in architecture and was lucky to have a father who left him rich enough to indulge his whim for collecting. He was fascinated by all sorts of things but especially hand made objects and he filled the house with the thousands of things he had collected, many restored by him.

While he owned the site he lived in another rather strange building (with even stranger furnishings), originally a priests house, in the grounds. After donation of the property to the National Trust, the house has been left as he designed and every room has its own theme from ornate lacquered cabinets to samurai armour to nautical objects to bicycles to musical instruments etc etc. Absolutely gob smacking and delightfully eccentric. Every corner contained a surprise! Just when you thought you could not see other amazing thing you would walk through a doorway and say "Wow"!! He had designed the gardens in the arts and craft style as the house was surrounded by farm land and pasture when he took possession of the property.

An afternoon stop at Broadway - arguably the best Cotswold village (certainly one of the most expensive!). Lovely buildings and the Cotswold stone looks great in the sunshine.

On to a hotel near Banbury for the night before a lovely sunny day doing the rounds of Stowe garden and Upton House. Stowe has incredible landscaped grounds with many buildings included in the landscape. Some of these are functional and some merely follies! Stowe house is a private school and VERY grand! We spent a good 2 hour walking our feet off round the extensive grounds following a site map that got us well and truly lost!!

This was followed by a very different National Trust house - Upton House, a not overly imposing facade hiding some beautiful porcelain and ceramics. Before donation to the National Trust the house was owned by the heir to the Shell company fortune who again was an avid collector.The theme of this house was immediately pre 2nd World War and the rooms looked just as if someone had left them a moment ago. In fact I felt like I was intruding!! There were two rooms devoted to Shell advertising over the past decades, my how things change! Also at this venue was a small exhibition of painting by Glenn Brown who "deconstructs our view of the world and our place in it". Some of these were so weird my brother in law declared he couldn't decide whether they were supreme art or simply art vandalism!!

A well earned rest for the tired feet and the next morning we rode a cock horse to Banbury town centre (visiting both the "cross" and the "lady upon a white horse"). Banbury is a typical market town - in fact the market was in full swing. But we couldn't stay long as our real reason for the trip to the area was waiting for us at Stoke Mandeville, just south of Aylesbury.

Stoke Mandeville is famous for it's world renowned hospital for treatment of spinal injuries and we passed the hospital en route to an appointment at "Old Moat Farm" where my youngest cousin was hosting a family reunion. My maternal grandmother had 10 children who survived to adulthood (my mother, Elsie, was number 7!) and the first cousins, partners and a few children had gathered last year to such good effect it was decided to repeat the occasion this year. Happily for me they decided to make the occasion coincide with my visit to England so poor Brian was thrown into this melee of merriment (but managed to survive!) The weather was superb and we had a great time catching up. Last year one particular cousin hadn't been able to attend which was a shame - the last time I had seen her was when we both bridesmaids at my sister's wedding in 1970 when she was 11! As she walked in the door I was just laughing at something and she threw up her hands (hopefully not in horror) and cried "Oh Auntie Elsie's laugh"!!!! Of course the favourite sport of the day was to compare us to our parents and talk about who in the next generation was blessed with the family genes!!

The setting of the old farmhouse was absolutely amazing too as the central part of the house dates back to 1490 with the "new" addition being 200 years old. The house has quite a colourful past and was owned by one of Oliver Cromwell's closest friends at the time of the beginning of the civil war so Cromwell might well have visited (bet he didn't have as many laughs as us though!!) Definitely time for a rest on our return to Birmingham. Except that there was a large "artsfest" on in town and we wandered along the next day to see the myriad of street performers, artists displays, craft stalls and demonstrations. We were fortunate to be able to get an entry into the new Birmingham City Library complex, still under construction. This building will be amazing when finished, no two floors are the same (a builder's nightmare) and the external cladding is very unusual. What impressed me most is that the winning tender included an ethos of benefiting the local people even in construction. To this end they have employed over 150 local unemployed or homeless people to work on the site and of these 77 have gained apprenticeships and a further 40 have full time work as a result of their time on site. Very impressive achievement for a multinational construction firm that could simply be profit based.

I am able to get this blog written because we declared today a REAL rest day - off again tomorrow but you'll have to wait for the next entry to hear about that!
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