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May 2021

Museums to Open for Visitors

Buckinghamshire Railway CentrePhoto courtesy of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

We can soon visit museums again! With the relaxing of lockdown restrictions most of the museums in the North Bucks area will be permitted to open, plus there’s a brand new museum (if you can call a museum brand new) opening in August.

Many, but not all of these museums require you to prebook; just click on the link.

Most of them have been busy creating new exhibits during lockdown, so if you’ve been before it’s time to go again! The museums are in order of location, starting from the North and working South.

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All the way to London

Welsh Lane  Bucks  a drover's road

The Monday Photo

If this cyclist turning right near Stowe School could follow the route he’s just turned on to all the way to the end, he would be at Bangor in Wales.

As the sign says, this is Welsh Lane and it’s a drove road, once used to take livestock from the far North West of Wales all the way to London.

This drove road comes into Bucks just to the West of Biddlesden. From this crossroads it heads onto the A422 and into Buckingham, heading for the capital.

If you look down Welsh Lane you can see that the hedges are far apart, this was ideal for drovers as it provided plenty of grass for their animals as they travelled. So important were the drove roads that enclosure acts stipulated a minimum distance between hedges on these routes.

The last known long distance drove was in 1900, taking Welsh sheep over 200 miles from Tregaron in central Wales to Harrow in London. It probably didn’t come this way, being more likely to go through Oxford and the South of Bucks.

The Other Way

The other road at this crossroads is Stowe House’s Oxford Avenue, and its trees were originally planted in the 1790s. This avenue is well over a mile and a half long. It leads from a stone gatehouse with entrance pillars on the Buckingham to Brackley road right up to the North side of Stowe School.

At the gatehouse end there’s a turn opposite to Water Stratford, where I found the tiny Norman church of St Giles for last week’s Monday photo.

I didn’t know at the time but the Boycott Farm Shop (see the sign in the photo) does very good sausage rolls, and it seems from their website that they sell pork pies too. I do like a nice pork pie, so I’ll be going back that way soon.

If you want to know more about the drove roads in mainland Britain, the Local Drove Roads website is the place to visit. I’ve spent already some time on it and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

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The Bluebells Are Late This Year

Bluebell flower heads

If you didn’t manage to see the bluebells over the bank holiday, you haven’t missed your chance, thanks to this year’s unusually cold April they are late this year. Here are some of the woods you can visit to see bluebells, the flower of Saint George.

I've stated where I've found that the wood has good access if you have poor mobility, but I haven't been to every wood on this list.

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Norman is as Norman Does

Church tympanum  Water Stratford

The Monday Photo

As soon as I saw this arch, I realised I was looking at a Norman church. The giveaway is the three rows of concentric zigzags or chevrons around the edge.

But really, I thought it might be Norman as I rode past it on my motorcycle, just yesterday. The church’s solid, compact and simple appearance made me turn the bike round and park up for a better look. This is St Giles’s church, in Water Stratford.

That semi-circular panel between the arch and the door lintel is called a tympanum, and the carving is of Christ in Majesty. This doorway, and the nave it’s in are believed to have been built in around 1135.

There’s another tympanum on the other side of the church, above a door in the chancel.

The lintel is carved with a miniature blind arcade, and if you want to see a full sized blind arcade you can find one on Stewkley’s Norman church.

Those knotted designs on the tops of the door pillars (the capitals) are carved with the cable motif. Those horizontal slabs between the ends of the arch and the capitals are the imposts, though I don’t know what the motif carved into them is called.

The church is very simple. There’s the nave, a tower that used to be much taller, and a chancel. The whole building is not much more than about 75 feet long. Of course, I couldn’t go in and didn’t try. I look forward to the time when I can go into a church and look around inside again; shouldn’t be too long now.

Water Stratford used to be called West Stratford until around 1436, and “Stratford” means there was a ford for a Roman road near this spot. The Roman road ran between Bicester and Towcester, but another one branched off it to Stony Stratford, from just North of the village.

It’s amazing what you find if you have your eyes open.

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