Every year, in early spring, when my garden is beginning to bloom, I tend my garden in the early morning hours, before it gets HOT and HUMID, sometimes still in my nightgown…….don’t tell the neighbors please! In the evening I curl up on the couch to watch my favorite British gardening detectives, Rosemary and Thyme. The gardening mysteries feature Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme, professional gardeners thrown together by a sudden death, who are forced to re-access their lives. Their friendship leads them to gardening ventures set in the beautiful villages and gardens of the English countryside. Being gardeners, they overhear secrets and dig up clues which lead them to solve crimes and capture criminals, and at the same time handle floral problems! The series ran from 2003 to 2007, but I watch the mysteries every year, one episode at a time and never tire of it!
Would there be a real place that mirrored the villages and gardens in the Rosemary and Thyme mystery series? I wanted to find a place where Miss Marple, from the Agatha Christie books, (the finest mystery writer of all time, in my opinion) would be settling down to tea with her cronies in the afternoon. They would be in the garden…….with the fragrance of fresh bloomed flowers…..sweet cut grass….. bees all a buzz…….
I found that delight in the villages of the Cotswolds.
For this adventure we are driving northwest from London, to our first stop, Chipping Campden, (population 2,206) in the Cotswold (meaning market) district of Gloucestershire. In the Middle Ages, Chipping Campden was the wool trading center, and High Street is lined with fine honey-colored limestone buildings built with Cotswold stone. The Market Hall was built in 1627 and the grand wool church, St James, in 1500. Local wealthy silk merchant, Sir Baptist Hicks, built the Almshouses and the Woolstaplers Hall in the 17th Century. His home, the Campden House, was destroyed by fire during the English Civil War, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Parliamentarians, but his descendants still live in the Court House attached to the site.
From the 17th century on, the village was known for the rural Cotswold Olimpick Games. Later these games became the Robert Dover Cotswolds Olimpick Games because the games were held in late May, on Dover’s Hill. One of the noted games was the sport of shin-kicking. (Hay was stuffed down pants to ease the blows) This game and others are still played today during the Cotswolds Olimpicks. Following the end of the games there is a torch-lit procession back into town, after the bonfire and fireworks display, and dancers take over the local square. The next day the Scuttlebrook Wake takes place. The locals wear fancy dress costumes and follow the Scuttlebrook Queen and her attendants into the village, with the Morris Men leading a decorated dray. Then there is dancing around the Maypole and the prizes for the games are handed out. The Morris Men (from “Moorish” dancers) were working peasant men, who wore shin pads, (a holdover from the shin-kicking games?) and are considered to be the original rural folk dancers of England. The current Morris Men of the Cotswolds, claim their lineage to the early dancers, only one of four teams in England who can boast this achievement!
In Chipping Campden we will be staying at the Bramley House B&B, not far from Dover’s Hill. It is a lovely double Cotswold stone cottage with an additional cottage overlooking the lavender garden. Jane cooked English breakfasts, made to order, and served it with cereals, yogurts and fresh pressed juices. She was also very helpful with choosing our sights of the day. We stayed several days, picking a new village everyday to explore! It is a gardener’s paradise! Enjoy!
For information about Bramley House see: http://www.bramleyhouse.co.uk/