Saturday, 23 December 2017

An English Christmas

For many people, Christmas begins on Christmas Eve when a single clear-voiced treble from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, sings the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”, a heart-wrenching moment, audible via the BBC World Service to a potential listenership of 40 million.

Our own Christmas Carol service in the village church, St Andrew's in the Parish of Castle Combe, began in very much the same way. It is a stirring and beautiful tradition, sung for us by a sublime soprano voice standing at the west door of the church. By the time the rest of the congregation had finished the second verse in unison, the church was filled with visible breath and a familiar warm & merry energy that belongs exclusively to Christmas gatherings.  

Our 6pm Carol service began without a vicar. He'd been told that the service began at 7pm. When he did arrive, at around 6.10pm, he emphasised how early he was. Taking over the service part way in, it took him a moment to find his place.

Vicar: Have you had the Bidding Prayer?
Congregation: Yes!
Vicar: Good, I don't need to do that. Have you blessed the crib?
Congregation: Yes!
Vicar: Very good. I can tick that off. Right, 
then you can all sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

At one point he was heard in the aisle asking himself, "Okay, what happens now?" Before remembering to light the Advent Crown.

We were sat in a pew next to the organist's wife who we briefly chatted to after the service. After asking us if we lived in the village she told us she lived nearby and was there because she's married to the organist; who the parish had found on two days prior to the carol service! Apart from it being an amusing story, it was another little jolt of festive spirit.

However you spend Christmas,
have a very merry one!

Kate  x

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The prettiest village in England

Castle Combe is often referred to as The Prettiest Village in England, owing to winning the title in, oh, 1961. Once labelled the prettiest village in England, you don't relinquish that particular title freely it seems. Even after 56 short years.

Half a century later, I think Castle Combe really does continue to live up to its reputation. Heritage protection means that even in the 21st Century the village looks almost exactly as it would have 100, 200, 300 years ago. A ready-made film set, a tourist hot spot, it is the Mecca of quintessential English villages. Anglophiles must visit at least once in their lifetime. 

So, what makes The Prettiest Village in England, even prettier?
Why the answer is, of course, snow. The best snowfall the Cotswolds have seen in 5+ years to be exact. A beautiful dusting of snow on a Sunday, just before Christmas, turning the village into a real life Christmas snow globe. These ingredients resulted in a magical winter day that I could never adequately put into words.

So here are the pictures.

On my final wander through the village at dusk I couldn't quite believe the perfect Christmas-time winter wonderland I was experiencing. The snow was still gently falling, the Yuletide fairy light crucifix on top of the church tower was aglow, and several chimneys sent steady trails of smoke into the quiet of the late afternoon. As darkness descended and we were cosy and warm inside next to our own fire, an owl began to hoot in the branches of a tree outside our living room window. It was the stuff of fairytales.

Bitterly cold temperatures and an overnight frost snap froze the remaining snow in place for a couple of days, extending the winter wonderland for us to soak up. 24 hours after the snow finished falling I drove over to my friend's house, marvelling at the spectacle. I turned down the icy and narrow country lane leading to her stunning 18th century farmhouse as the afternoon sky surrendered to nightfall. The hedgerows were bare, silhouetted against the darkening candy pink sky, the orange glow of the sun just about to dip below the horizon, the surrounding countryside still blanketed by snow. To many west country folk, farmers included i'm sure, this was a harsh wintry scene and an indication of a hard winter season to endure. I was only in awe. The stark beauty was breathtaking. Infused with magic.

I can't properly convey the beauty of the English countryside covered by a December snowfall. Dare we begin to hope for a white Christmas?

Seasons best,

Kate  x

P.S. A reflection on life in the village in other seasons can be read, here.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Northern Eire

Here I am sitting on the Giant's Causeway, blown away (almost literally) by this natural phenomenon. I wasn't expecting this site to be so beautiful. Rugged it is, but just instantly and utterly breathtaking. 

The views are even more spectacular from up high on the nearby cliff-top walks.

This is the Carrick-A-Rede bridge, once just a single hand rope used by salmon fishermen to cross (over a 100 foot drop to the crashing ocean below) to a tiny sheer faced island where they caught salmon.

You can just catch a glimpse of the single fisherman hut on the island, below it an old wooden boat balances on the rocks.

Dunluce Castle sits on another section of coastline close by, similarly built on top of sheer cliff faces. Its now crumbling ruins are an evocative sight against the expanse of churning ocean.

Northern Ireland is windswept and at the absolute mercy of the wild weather coming in from the North Atlantic ocean, but this just adds to its rugged and weather-worn beauty. A spectacular part of the world. 

Kate  x

Friday, 1 December 2017


I went for a frosty morning walk through the woodland today, the 1st day of December. I came home with frozen toes and nose, but also with a wintry wreath I fashioned along the way. With some fallen branches, complete with little pine cones still attached, and red velvet ribbon, I now have a foraged wreath in our bedroom to mark the season.

Happy Advent.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Derbyshire Dales

The Derbyshire Dales are pretty indeed, but not in a way that is wholly unbelievable like some of England's southern areas of reputed natural beauty. Derbyshire is real.

The rolling emerald green hills, intersected with miles upon miles of grey stone walls, are dotted with very attractive stone barns and outbuildings, their pleasing aesthetic a happy accident of their utilitarian use and design. The barns, and the machinery they house, are very much for function. And on the horizon you will see the silhouette of chimney stacks, their trailing smoke plumes indicative of a long industrial history. The North is the birthplace of industry. From the peak of the industrial revolution in the 19th Century to the manufacturing heydays of the 20th, the timeline of modern industry is woven through England's North.

The natural landscape is wild and weather beaten in places. But its rugged and exposed beauty is no to obstacle to the people who live and farm here.

Kate  x