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Published: September 19th 2010
Episode 7 : Oxford to St Albans via BADGERS !
Sunday Sept 19, 2010
Hi everyone. Firstly, thanks again to all those who have been leaving comments for us (Sally, Marja, Shell, Leon, Rodd , Kev ,Steve and others).
In the previous blog, I talked about Stonehenge and Bath and Oxford. From Oxford we drove North (ie, Ross drove- since I cannot drive manuals, ...he, he, he.....) We went North through The Cotswolds. This area is quintessential England - renowned for its picture postcard villages of honey-coloured stone cottages and thatched roof houses in green rolling hills (no drought here). We stopped at various little places with cutesy names, such as Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden and Upper Slaughter (well, maybe not that one). Mum and Pat, you would be in pensioner heaven, as most of these places were packed with antique and craft shops.
We continued on to Warwick, where we took in Warwick castle. This was great, once you get past the theme park atmosphere imposed by the group that run it (Tussauds, who also run the London wax works - and they charge like a wounded bull- luckily, we had 2 for 1 tix from the great B & B that we stayed in). The next day proved to be a long and hectic one, but ultimately rewarding. We set off from Warwick and drove to the middle of nowhere, down a long lonely road in the countryside to a hamlet that had nothing but two nonedescript houses in it. Why? Because this was the forgotten hamlet of Stuchbury, where Ross' family come from. I had expected to see several bowling greens, perhaps, and certainly a plethora of pubs, but no... only some scabby old cottages and some farming equipment. Nevertheless, Ross voyueristically photographed every building and tree to show his family back home. Then, we had to madly drive many miles South, as we had to be at a rural orchard by sunset in the hope of seeing.... BADGERS !!
I had organised the badger thing on the internet; there was apparrently a population of them in a reserve in the little village of Tewin, 40 miles North of London. After some difficulty, we arrived ta the orchard at 6.30pm, parked, and made our way down to a hide at the back of the old orchard (badgers are nocturnal). The hide was a long glass-fronted wooden building, facing the woods. As it turned out, we were the only two people there. We sat quietly and waited. A fox ran past, which was cool, then some rabbits, but no badgers. 7pm; the sun set and a flood light came on, illuminating the area immediately in front of us. 7.30pm passed. It was dark now and starting to get cool. Still no badgers. An owl hooted.....
8pm. Still no badgers. Ross looked at me, exasperated:
"Smiddy, is this one of your wild goose chases?"
"Since when have I ever been wrong with animals? Anyway, the comments in the visitor book over there indicate that the badgers did not appear until AFTER 8pm. Sit tight."
"Alright, but where is the beer tent?"
I told him to shut up and wait.
8.15pm. No badgers.....
Then, as if on cue, they started to emerge from the shadows. First one, then two, then three, and, five minutes later, we had eight badgers foraging right in front of us. Badgers are the size of large wombats, but have grey fur and slender black and white striped heads. They were very cute, but flighty - if we spoke or moved too much, they would dart back into the woods, only to carefully return and resume feeding (Rodd: you, Rachael and the boys would have loved it). I, of course, was over the moon. According to one local, many people live their whole lives in England never seeing a badger - and here we were watching eight of them! We took some photos as best we could without the flash, then decided to leave them to it. Having stupidly forgotten to bring a torch, we stumbled through the dark back through the orchard towards the hire car, treading on rotten apples and having intimate contact with trees. After dinner at a local pub, we finally made it to our accommodation late that night in St Albans
(11.30pm). A long but excellent day.
The next day, we went to Hatfield house - after the jaw-dropping splendor of Blenheim and Versailles palaces, I thought that this would not be very interesting - (ie, more of the same). Not so. It is Jacobean (King James I; 1600's) so the key feature is the woodwork. Absolutely amazing elaborate and intricate carved oak across the ceilings and walls and staircases of a truly magnificent stately home.
Well, that's enough. We are about to go now to "Ye Olde Fighting Cocks" here in St Albans, which is a very good contender for oldest pub in Britain (Steve, this is supported by recent carbon dating, 8th to 11th century). Hic.....
Craig and Ross
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