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February 2019

Cottage life at Quainton

Rethatching at Orchard Cottage  Quainton 01

I drove through Quainton on the way to see my dad last week, passing East to West through the village. When I got to Lower Street I saw the thatchers were at work on Orchard Cottage.

I had a few minutes so I stopped to take photos, and I talked to Dave, one of the thatchers. He was trimming the new thatch on the gable end of the house next to the road.

Rethatching at Orchard Cottage  Quainton 03

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Bridge to Nowhere

Claydon House bridgeThe bridge. Claydon House is amongst the trees in the distance.

You might just have wondered why there’s a bridge beside the road, between Calvert and Botolph (pronounced ‘Bottle’ by locals) Claydon.

You may have imagined that the road’s been diverted since the bridge was built, as at Thornborough bridge (Scroll down at the link)

I don’t think it ever has. Instead, it forms a nice focal point for the last of the three lakes in the landscaped grounds of Claydon House. I also suspect that it hid the road at a point where you wouldn’t expect to see trees if there really was a small river there, instead of a minor stream.

The grounds were created between 1763 and 1776 for the impressive West front of Claydon House. This house was built by Ralph, the 2nd Earl Verney between 1757 and 1771 to rival Stowe House, a few miles away on the other side of Buckingham.

Some rooms in the West front are big enough to take the whole of the large three bed house I grew up in; roof, chimneys, the TV aerial and all, with ease. Claydon House is a Grade 1 listed National Trust property, open to the public.

Claydon House and churchClaydon House and church.

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Looking After The Swan

The Swan  East Claydon

On my way through East Claydon last week, I noticed that the house that used to be The Swan, the last coaching stop on the old Aylesbury to Buckingham turnpike, was covered in scaffolding. It looks like there’s some serious roofing work to be done.

The well painted Victorian postbox I showed you a few weeks ago (scroll down at the link) is out of sight at the far end, but you can just see the yellow padding the scaffolders have put round their tubes to protect unwary letter posters.

There’s also another view of The Swan, at the link above.

Scaffolding on The Swan  East Claydon


Lunch Time in the Ouzel Valley

Ouzel Valley workers  lunchtime
Well, that was clever. I made a note of the names of these three workmen and what they were doing in the Ouzel Valley Park in Milton Keynes, but I’ve lost the piece of paper. 

Anyhow, the two in the first picture were on their lunch break, but the man with the keys to the pick up hadn’t returned, and their lunch was locked inside the cab.

I took their photo, then when their mate turned up they all piled into the pick up and I got his picture too. He’s nearest the camera in the second photo. If I remember right, they were trimming conifers.

Lunch break for working men


Part of the Landscape

National grid  ClaydonNear the East Claydon sub-station

The big sub-station on the road from Winslow to East Claydon is about a mile and a half from the house I grew up in.

As a boy, I often explored the fields around Winslow, and the pylons and the high voltage lines were always there, ranging across the land. I could even see them from my bedroom window, so I became used to the pylons and lines; they became part of my landscape.

Now, if you look at the sort of landscape photographs that appear in calendars, all evidence of anything later than about 1920 is carefully hidden or cropped out. But the English countryside is not like that.

Calvert at duskCalvert at Dusk

All those pylons and modern farm buildings are artifacts of humanity, just as the hedges and fields, the winding lanes and the quaint old cottages are. You’ll not find a square foot of land in the Southern half of England that hasn’t been touched by the hand of man at one time or another.

It’s what makes England so fascinating; all is shaped by what came before. Footpaths and lanes follow old Roman roads.  Great fifteenth century spires can be seen for miles but are part of far more modest churches, that date back to Norman times.

The Claydon sub-station site is shaped by ancient field edges, the brook that the parish boundary follows, and the line of the long gone Metropolitan Railway.  Even Milton Keynes is shaped and named by the past. 

Those tall steel pylons, and the 11,000 volt lines that track across country three at a time on wooden poles lend a nice graphic element to the landscape and are good news for photographers.

Pylons. Me, I love ‘em.

Further Reading
I have copies of each of these books and I can recommend them:


 I Has Beans

Shoes off pleaseShiny black boots, suede lace ups, sparkly ‘Frozen’ princess shoes; all have to be left in the entrance; this is a Japanese temple.

A few weeks ago I visited the Buddhist temple at Willen, to take the photo at the top of this post: When the nun Marta Anjusan found out that I’ve just turned sixty, she asked me if I was going to be there for the Bean Throwing Ceremony.

I was, because I knew that at last it was my chance to throw the beans.

Anyone whose age is divisible by twelve (born in the year of the pig) is given a bowl full of beans and sweets. When the lights are turned out and everyone starts chanting “good spirits in, bad spirits out”, we piggies throw the beans and sweets up in the air.

The children, who all have little demon masks and are holding paper sweetie bags, dart around on the floor gathering as many sweets and beans as they can.

I aimed the beans at different parts of the shrine room, so they all got a fair chance to gather their swag. A few years ago somebody I know was the right age to be a bean thrower, and he wasn’t throwing them all underhand like he was supposed to.

Instead he was whizzing them at certain targets, and he got me in the ear. I’ve been waiting all these years to get my revenge, but strangely he stayed well out of the way, in the corner behind me. Rats!

This wasn’t the only reason I wanted to throw the beans, of course. The last time it was the year of the pig I wasn’t a temple person; I'd missed my chance.

Buddhist nun with demon maskA nun with... er… a demon mask. I was roped into taking this photo.

At another of these ceremonies, I managed to get a clout round the ear from the wife of the Lord High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. Bad timing on my part, I was taking photos and stood up just as she launched another handful into the eager crowd.

This ceremony is also called Setsubun, which means seasonal division in Japan, where this order of Buddhism is from. Sunday was the 3rd of February, and according to Japan’s old lunar calendar, it was the last day of winter.

The year of the pig is part of the Chinese zodiak, but it’s been happily embraced by Japanese culture. I’m told that us piggies are very stubborn and determined to go only in the direction we think is right.

Sums me up... Oink! Oink!

Setsubun group photoI was roped into taking this group photo too. I didn't think I was going to take any photos, but brought a camera anyway; you never know!