Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Return to Eastleach Martin and Eastleach Turville

An armed man was holding a two-year-old boy hostage in a stand-off with police on the M4. As a result, the motorway was closed and by the time we'd negotiated a series of traffic-choked A and B roads to reach the irredeemably posh Cotswold pub where my then husband had booked a table for my 40th birthday lunch, we were very late indeed. The staff took one look at us and our neurologically interesting children, and showed us into the skittle alley where we ate our indifferent (but expensive) meals in isolation. And by the time we emerged, this being late October, it was getting dark, the motorway was still out of bounds, and there was no time to do any of the things we'd planned apart from the briefest of visits to the clapper bridge spanning the River Leach in the neighbouring villages of Eastleach Turville and Eastleach Martin.*

Here's the bridge, in the etching by Robin Tanner I'd been given to mark my great age. 

It's taken me 16 years (almost) to muster the heart to go back. 


This time the worst thing that happened on the motorway was a sudden squally shower. Not to worry, I told the dog. We are poets. What care we about soaked jeans and dripping hair?


But by the time we'd parked in Eastleach Turville and made our way down to the river it had stopped and the worst hazard we had to negotiate was some over-protective swans and their offspring. 


It isn't an exact rendering of the bridge, by the way, nor the view from it. It's more of an idealised composite, but no less pleasing for that. 


After the bridge, the next stop on our short but sweet route was the mediaeval Church of St Michael and St Martin, which gives the village on yonder side of the bridge its name. 


Even I could throw a stone from this House of God to the neighbouring church of St Andrew's, so it's no surprise that only one of the buildings is still in regular use. 


St Michael and St Martin drew the short straw for closure and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It has that pleasing emptiness of such churches that makes it easier to focus on the fabric of the building. 




One of the windows contains fragments of mediaeval glass.
I am always drawn to the faces. 


It's hard to pick up in photos, but there's a delicious wonkiness to the north and south walls and windows. 


There were also postcards on sale featuring the local hunt. This was less pleasing. I bought one, pointed out the incongruity on the back, and left it there. 






Our route took us down a lane past an orchard with already rosying apples, and trees dripping with damsons and plums. Putting thoughts of my favourite damson vodka from my mind, I conceded that even if they weren't owned by anyone, their bounty properly belonged to the villagers rather than me, but it was a close call.

The walking book boasted an idyllic path by the river with herons and even the chance of a kingfisher, but sadly the route has been diverted away across a field, I suspect due to erosion. 


And when I did spot it, the river was clearly a bit of a winterbourne, being almost completely dry in parts. 

And instead of herons and kingfishers, I was accompanied by the bedraggled squeak of a bullfinch.


There were one or two impressive trees, though, and it was interesting to see how the river, in more prosperous times, has affected the lie of the land. 


Eventually our route turned south and climbed. On top of a ridge, I encountered a sizeable collection of puffballs. Yum.
No more self-restraint - I seized a couple, stuffed the smaller in my satchel and tucked the other under my arm.


Having stowed them safely in the car, I made my way back into the village to visit the other Church, that of St Andrew. 


Its saddleback tower is so very familiar from the etching. 









St Andrew's obvious glory is its Norman doorway, dating from 1130 ...  


... the tympanum of which depicts a defaced Christ in Majestas, flanked by angels. 


The interior feels rather more lived in than that of its sister Church, though still very stripped back.  





There was just time for a last maunder down by the bridge, this time sans swans. With the trees beginning to think about changing their garb for something rather more seasonal, it felt like the last lushness of summer.


*As I recall, the little lad was safely rescued.

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