A day out in Gloucestershire

For Mother’s Day, we (‘we’!) decided to visit a local National Trust property, a deer coursing lodge just over the border in Gloucestershire. The lodge was built in the 17th century for a clearly hideously rich man so that he could entertain guests with this sport, apparently a precursor to horse racing, being quite simply an opportunity to bet on one of two dogs chasing the unfortunate deer for a mile down a narrowing field.

Interestingly, I learned that the deer usually survived, doubtless to be put through the same trauma again although on occasion it would become that evening’s dinner.

The lodge was typically grand, kind of like a portable stately home with massive fireplaces, high ceilings and the kind of repulsive portraiture so beloved of monied people of old.  I once worked for an organisation which held meetings in a fancy chamber which had two vast Gainsboroughs displayed, allowing me ample time to peruse them and to conclude that they really were atrocious, with tiny heads, unrealistic bodies and two-dimensional scenes.

The property we were in was looked after by the usual National Trust volunteers: achingly, delightfully pleasant, the kind of people you would cheerfully give your house keys to but whom you must NEVER ask anything unusual of if you value your time.  My wife made the mistake of asking to join us up and came to regret it over the ensuing 20 minutes, as the membership form was completed in minute detail. I had no idea a rectal exam was required to join the National Trust but there you go.

I am, of course, being very unpleasant here.  The enthusiasm of volunteers such as these is one of life’s most uplifting elements.  Ask them about a strange feature on a fireplace and you might as well have offered them dinner and a Brahms concert with Katie Derham, such is the delight they exhibit in response.  Wonderful people, all..

The house duly looked at, the paintings grimaced before for the requisite amount of time, we ventured into the surrounding deer park, the place where His Lordship kept the poor animals before their ordeal.  To be fair, they would have had a pleasant time of it as the landscaped park was very large, with a brook, some very ancient trees and, well, not much else. For your deer, it would have been Shangri-La: for us humans on a blustery and slightly overcast March it wasn’t really in the same league.

As someone who loves dear old ordinary England, I'll be honest, I rather struggled with this one: it was, after all, just a big, empty field.  A big, empty field with bare trees - some quite old, according to the guide - but that didn’t really help.

The field undulated a bit, folding down in the middle to a lovely stream but that was pretty much it.  On a sunny day in July, with a picnic and a horde of under-10s it would be perfect. Less so in March.

We dutifully walked, found the Very Old Tree, looked at it - even hugged it, went down to the brook, crossed two tiny bridges, crossed back, then - with not a word spoken - decided it was time to go back to the lodge where cake might be taken.

There was a ‘ha-ha’, which I now know is a deep ditch to stop the deer from a-wandering, avoiding the need for unsightly fences to spoil His Lordship’s view but sadly, said ‘ha-ha’ was but a shadow of its 16th century profundity.  It was now barely an impression in the ground.

There were also snowdrops, lots of them.  I love a snowdrop almost as much as I adore the beaming daffs which herald Spring and which just scream at you, ‘It’s over! Winter is over!’  My wife loves snowdrops too but the difference is that I look at them, remark, ‘oh, snowdrops’, then head for the warmth of the car or the cafe.  She looks at them for quite a lot longer.

This was not a problem for me as I was already heading for the cafe.  To visit a National Trust property and not have cake should quite frankly be illegal.  The final horror awaited.

The cafe was full, the visitors huddling for warmth after they too had endured visited the deer park.  Plus, clearly having had a very good day, their stocks of comestibles was down to a fruit cake and a couple of scones, making a wait for a table less appealing.  I was going to have to go without.

We had a nice day at the lodge in Gloucestershire.  It was nice to be outdoors after the awful recent spell of weather and days spent indoors staring at a computer.  The lodge was a very fine building and finding out about deer coursing had been interesting. Unfortunately, being mostly outside in nature, this particular attraction needed a bit of warmth and sun.  We’ll go back but when we do, now we’re members of the National Trust, we’ll take sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil, a flask and some cake - just in case.

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