Cirencester Under a Colourless Sky

You cannot let the weather beat you. We learnt that lesson in Norway when we went on a hike to Pulpit Rock. If the Norwegians did hold their head in their hands and sit inside because of inclement conditions outside, they would be inside, forever. The night before travelling to Stavanger, we were contemplating cancelling our flight tickets. The forecast was for thunderstorm and showers the whole weekend. Now, when we called the hotel we were booked with in Stavanger, we heard a cheery line from the other end: ‘There is no such things as bad weather, only bad clothes’. Right. Levels of optimism that might have tempted us to ask the person at the other end to ‘go take a hike’, except for the simple fact that we were the ones strictly off for a hike. Right after midnight we decided to lump overthinking and go for it. There is a point to all the rambling. It changed our attitude to travel. Unless of course there is lightning and thunderstorm predicted for hikes like Trolltunga. Then you would do well to think twice – imagine the troll’s tongue turning slippery and you jumping on it (for the simple joy that you have made your way to the tongue) but then finding yourself sliding off it into the rocks below, not even the fjord.

It was a spectacularly drab day when we woke up on Saturday last weekend. The kind that makes you think that a stormy blue sky is a blessing. The original plan of setting out for a walk in the Carding Mill Valley, a lovely heathland in the West Midlands, changed to a sedate saunter through a town in the Cotswolds. Cirencester. We make incessant trips to the Cotswolds (ref: The Wolds on the Windrush) but somehow we had missed out on this traditional market town. When we got into the town, we found the traditional limestone coloured buildings that are a key element in the landscape of the Cotswolds. If it was sunny how they would have glowed a honey gold.

But it was dark and the stones on the buildings seemed to acquire a weathered look. That said I do have a soft spot for the way those stones look aged like the ones on the church below. They give it a certain dignity. It impresses upon the gaping onlooker that it has been standing there for ages, a silent witness to the comings and goings of the people of the town over generations, which is as well because the parish church of St. John the Baptist is over a 1000 years old.

Now Cirencester is not your average pretty Cotswold village, crammed with chocolate box houses and bakeries. No sir, this is more of a busy and chic town made up of expensive Scandinavian-style fashion boutiques, a fair number of vintage and homeware stores to delight the senses, art centres, old halls (Corn Hall) that have been converted into crafts markets and a list of warm pubs, country inns and bistros. Not many tourists come through and I suppose locals are quite content with the fact. But if you are in Cirencester you know you have reached the former Roman city of Corinium that ranked second only to London in size and importance.

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St. John the Baptist is one of the best of the lot of wool churches in the Cotswolds funded by donations from rich wool merchants.
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Fossil-rich limestone typical to the Cotswolds adorns the gate and the cottage. Beyond the gate and hedges lie the property of the Earl and Countess of Bathurst, the Bathurst Estate. 

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We stopped at The Bear Inn, a fine gastro pub, for lunch. With its open fireplace, Tudor-style beams and rustic decor, it is supposed to be the oldest coaching inn in Cirencester.
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Bread and butter and Merlot. Can you possibly go wrong with that?
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Possibly the thickest cut of gammon Adi has had in all his time in the Blighty.
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I stuck with a chicken and mushroom fricassee topped up with arugula
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A pint of Brains, a smooth and hoppy ale from a Welsh brewery

After lunch it was time explore the town for knick-knacks.

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The Stableyard
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On Black Jack Street
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He Says She Waffles. A suffragette would shoot through the roof.
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Delicious full-fat Winstones Ice Cream. Double scoop of toffee crunch and honeycomb.
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A bit of this and that
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Stores inside The Stableyard

How to Get There: Cirencester is known as the Capital of the Cotswolds because of its central location in the area. Hiring a car is your best option to reach the town located at the intersection of four A roads and connected by the M4 and M5. The train station nearest is Kemble, about 6 miles off. Buses to and fro cannot be counted upon. So really, just drive.

Where to Stay:

The Fleece (thefleececirencester.co.uk) is a centrally located former coaching inn that dates back to the 17th century. Standard double rooms start at roughly £110 per night including breakfast.

The Old Brewhouse (theoldbrewhouse.com) is a good old bed & breakfast run in a 17th-century townhouse. Double rooms are pegged at £95 per night.

Where to Eat:

Jesse’s Bistro (jessesbistro.co.uk) offers modern British fare. A two-course menu starts at £20.

The Bear Inn offers British classics. They have a host of pre-set menu offers that are quite cost-effective and the food is good.

Made by Bob (foodmadebybob.com), a deli and café in the Corn Hall is a hit with the modish crowd. Its chef is Bob Parkinson, who trained at the South Kensington restaurant, Bibendum, in London. A two-course menu costs between £25-30.

What to Do:

Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre on the outskirts of town. It’s free.

St. John the Baptist church. Behind it are the abbey grounds where once stood an Augustinian abbey. It was razed down in the 16th century. Through the abbey’s remnant Norman archway, a path leads to Harebushes Wood for a woodland walk.

Cirencester Park, home to the Bathurst Estate, is open to the public for free. Timings: 8am-5pm.

Cirencester Antiques Centre (Antique Hunting in the Wolds) if you are fond of all things old.

Black Jack Street for more vintage browsing.

If you are done with seeing the town, head off to the picture-postcard villages of Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water or towns like Burford.

 

Antique Hunting in the Wolds

Unworn. That single word inked on the tag hanging off the white wedding dress stared out at me. It was priced at 75 quid and possibly a size 12. I don’t why but it spoke to me of heartbreak, unless no one bought it, in which case it would have been heartbreak for the designer.

The stories that a dress can tell is for the imagination to conjure up. I read this book once, one of those feel-good stories, where a woman inherits a vintage dress shop and finds little notes of stories behind the dress tucked into each ensemble. I was quite struck by the notion. How wonderful would it be to walk into a shop and read about the kind of memories the former wearer associated with the dress.

So I took one more look at the dress, inched closer, careful not to let my bag swipe anything off the tables around (and give the husband an attack of the nerves with a bill of broken antiques) and examined  the satin silk. It really was exquisite. When I pondered about the ‘unworn’ bit with the husband while we were returning home, I swear that he said this: “She was hacked to death.” That just put paid to all my romantic thoughts.

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This post is not about unworn wedding dresses though.

We were in Cirencester (more on the town in the next post), a town in the Cotswolds, last weekend and my favourite part of the day was exploring an antique shop which has been run by the owner for the last 20 years.

It was about exploration as I walked into that old building, full of wooden beams and textured walls. I climbed the narrow stairs past ledges that had rustic vegetable carts sitting on them, some a little askew. The rooms branched off, taking me into further nooks and crannies where more and more old junk popped up. The view from the back of the building was of the church and the graveyard and it was quite so poetic to look up from a random bunch of old postcards and find them in my line of vision. This was it. I had hit jackpot and I could have carried it back home if drab matters such as practicality and price could have taken a hike.

I made a full fledged go for it, stalling in corners and examining old lamp shades, rifling through yellowed pages of beautifully bound books, staring lustily at books sold in elegant piles with faded roses atop them, card boxes from the 1920s, samovars from the 19th century, copper cider measures. Wait, what was an otter doing here? A donation from the Leicester museum? That might sit for an eternity inside the shop. I would have to make someone buy That if I had any plans of acquiring this treasure trove of a shop.

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Nifty little chest of drawers
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The dilemmas of every writer he spoke for in the introductory lines. John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
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Could we get a truck to carry these back home?
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A French card game from the ’20s
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Rusted lanterns. They remind me of the ones we used in my childhood home in Calcutta. They used to shed some light during extensive dark evenings of power cuts.
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See what I mean?
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Exotica
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Isn’t this lampshade so lovely?
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Why would anyone want to spend money on an otter snarling at them?
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A copper samovar circa 1800 as the tag says

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Warm corners, pipe-chugging-and-letter-perusing old men and cider measures

Some snatches of conversation that I could not help overhear.

“When I was in a poorhouse, I had one of those…” (from the corner of my eyes I saw a woman in a neat dress suit walk by as she said these words to her friend).

“Oh, look at this table. Touch the veneer. Rosewood and Victorian. Wouldn’t you love one of those?” (middle-aged man in a blazer with his woman friend as he took a round of the table and ran his fingers over the edge of it). I heard this one as I turned around to a glass case and shuddered. Black and blue bugs stored in several glass jars. And a cheeky one – a skeleton upturning a bottle of alcohol for a few last sips.

“That tie! And wait, is that a tie pin?” This took place at the till where the customer, a man with a shock of white hair and the look of an absent-minded but clean scientist, pulled on the tie of the owner of the centre standing behind the till. “I love the tie pin! Now I would not blame you for pressing manhandling charges on me, sir.” Sir gave him the amiable grin of a seller.

Supreme satisfaction in a single store, guaranteed.