Es­cape the tourist trail at the beau­ti­ful Grey­stones na­ture re­serve

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - WORDS AND PHOTOS: Tracy Spiers

Bour­ton-on-the-wa­ter is a hon­ey­pot for tourists who seek out its Venice-like bridges, tran­quil river, model vil­lage, bird zoo and re­vere it as the per­fect post­card im­age of a quintessen­tial Cotswold vil­lage.

As this month’s is­sue comes out, foot­ballers are about to don their boots for their an­nual kick around in the River Win­drush - a rather ec­cen­tric tra­di­tion for the Au­gust Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day.

But to­day, I find my­self in per­haps the most peace­ful and time­less part of Bour­ton. And it is glo­ri­ous. It is where one can al­most taste and smell the vil­lage’s his­tory first hand, when man first lived and worked here 6,000 years ago and life was some­what dif­fer­ent.

It is Bour­ton-on-the-wa­ter’s lat­est ‘at­trac­tion’, but un­like a stop-off point on a tourist coach trip, this spe­cial place re­quires time, en­cour­ages the un­hur­ried and is geared for pri­mary school chil­dren (and ma­ture learn­ers) to dis­cover and ex­pe­ri­ence his­tory in a tan­gi­ble and ex­cit­ing way.

When Grey­stones was bought by Glouces­ter­shire Wildlife Trust in 2001, it con­sisted of derelict farm build­ings, farm­land, mead­ows and rivers. Thanks to more than £750,000, Na­tional Lottery fund­ing from the Her­itage Lottery Fund, Grun­don Waste Man­age­ment, other sup­port­ers and dozens of vol­un­teers, it is now a pi­o­neer­ing wildlife vis­i­tor cen­tre, of­fi­cially opened in July by Glouces­ter­shire Wildlife Trust pres­i­dent El­lie Har­ri­son, well known as a pre­sen­ter of BBC’S Coun­try­file.

“The next chap­ter of the Grey­stones story has now be­gun. In it, ev­ery­body has the op­por­tu­nity to im­merse in na­ture and walk in the foot­steps of our an­ces­tors on this in­cred­i­ble an­cient site,” she said at the open­ing.

My visit fol­lows shortly af­ter the launch and I find it both mov­ing and en­light­en­ing. I take my six­teen year old and mum along to share the ex­pe­ri­ence, and it is an ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s a place where mod­erni­sa­tion meets an­other time and ghosts of the past al­most hover over the 66 hectares al­low­ing us to get a snap­shot of what was. HIS­TORY

We are met by Lenka Cme­lakova, Grey­stones Vis­i­tor Cen­tre man­ager, who is the per­fect host and clearly pas­sion­ate about this place. We quickly cap­ture her en­thu­si­asm and en­gage with all Grey­stones has to of­fer. Af­ter I milk a pre­tend cow and pose on a

trac­tor, we en­ter the Dis­cov­ery Barn to watch an in­for­ma­tive film, pre­sented by El­lie, which gives us a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of this unique lo­ca­tion. Peo­ple have gath­ered, lived and worked here for more than 6,000 years, and it is thought that it may well be one of the first places in the Cotswolds to be in­hab­ited. Dur­ing the Iron Age, about 2,500 years ago, it was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when it be­came a re­gional trad­ing cen­tre. Emily and I take part in the in­ter­ac­tive wildlife quiz, study the tac­tile model of the Grey­stones site and marvel over the ex­cit­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds on dis­play in­clud­ing a coin, dat­ing back 2,065 years.

I take the op­por­tu­nity to dress up as an authen­tic Iron Age woman, com­plete with a tra­di­tional head brooch, based on one found on the site. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists un­cov­ered ev­i­dence of round­houses at Grey­stones dat­ing back to 300BC which in­spired Glouces­ter­shire Wildlife Trust and a team of vol­un­teers to build a replica one. Lenka takes us to see this amaz­ing thatched roof cre­ation which is made from oak, hazel and ash, wat­tle (wo­ven sticks) and daub (soil and cow dung).

My 11-year-old twins have been study­ing this pe­riod at pri­mary school. I helped them make a model Iron Age set­tle­ment but there is noth­ing like see­ing a life-size replica roundhouse to fully ap­pre­ci­ate that era. It is huge and im­pres­sive and pro­vides a fab­u­lous op­por­tu­nity for 6-11 year olds to step back in time. Ed­u­ca­tion and events as­sis­tant Cat Parker-stan­d­ley tells us it has been ex­cit­ing to see how the school pupils re­spond.

“We are re­ally pleased to be work­ing with so many lo­cal chil­dren who can en­joy our ed­u­ca­tion events such as The Iron Age ex­pe­ri­ence day, which gives them a chance to use wat­tle and daub, light a fire, cook a bread roll and be­come ar­chae­ol­o­gists – ex­pe­ri­ences which all link with the na­tional cur­ricu­lum. It brings it alive for them,” says Cat.

It’s amaz­ing to think that peo­ple have met, lived and farmed con­tin­u­ously at Grey­stones for 6,000 years. Ev­i­dence of a ‘cause­wayed en­clo­sure,’ (one of only seven found in Glouces­ter­shire) dat­ing back 6,000 years was re­vealed dur­ing geo­phys­i­cal sur­veys and it is the lo­ca­tion of one of Europe’s ear­li­est known. Grey­stones has Sched­uled An­cient Mo­ment sta­tus for its Ne­olithic and Iron Age re­mains, which means the site is pro­tected for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

A sign­posted Time-travel Trail guides vis­i­tors through this his­tory and pro­vides fas­ci­nat­ing facts about what has been found here, in­clud­ing three Iron Age skele­tons.

Lenka takes us along part of this on our way to the River Eye. Along the way she points out the just-vis­i­ble Iron Age ram­parts and also tells us how the site was known as as ‘Sul­monnes Burg,’ – a place where a farmer kept his cattle dur­ing the An­glo-saxon pe­riod 1,300 years ago, a name that was to be­come Sal­mons­bury. WILDLIFE

Grey­stones is home to Sal­mons­bury Mead­ows, a Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific

‘We are re­ally pleased to be work­ing with so many lo­cal chil­dren who can en­joy our ed­u­ca­tion events such as The Iron Age ex­pe­ri­ence day’

In­ter­est (SSSI) be­cause of its tra­di­tional hay mead­ows and rare wild­flow­ers. Vis­i­tors can dis­cover this part of Grey­stones by fol­low­ing the sign-posted Wildlife Walk, which celebrates the beau­ti­ful wild­flow­ers grow­ing in the river mead­ows, wa­ter voles, ot­ters, bad­gers, bats (eight species have been found here), barn owls, South­ern Marsh or­chids, Bar­berry shrubs and a wide range of birds and in­sects. As we walk, beau­ti­ful dam­sel­flies dance at our feet, there is a peace in the air and the nat­u­ral, un­spoilt sur­round­ings just lifts the soul. Chil­dren can en­joy pond dip­ping and ex­plor­ing creepy crawlies at will.

Out­side the ed­u­ca­tion room where school groups can take part in ac­tiv­i­ties, vol­un­teer Sarah Dur­rant works her won­ders on the wildlife gar­den which she has cre­ated. Open on se­lected days and when cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties are be­ing run, it fea­tures dif­fer­ent habi­tats in­clud­ing woodland, a veg­etable gar­den, meadow and bog gar­den.

“The aim is to pro­vide a gar­den that demon­strates wildlife fea­tures that peo­ple can take away to put in their own gar­den, but the sec­ondary aim of help­ing mem­bers of the com­mu­nity en­gage with wildlife through gar­den­ing,” ex­plains Sarah, a pro­fes­sional gar­dener who is also a hor­ti­cul­tural ther­apy prac­ti­tioner. COWS Next door is Grey­stones’ café, open Fri­days, Satur­days, Sun­days and Bank Hol­i­day Mon­days from 10am un­til 4pm, serv­ing drinks, snacks and a se­lec­tion of Af­ter­noon Teas. It is here where vis­i­tors can buy Grey­stones Sin­gle Glouces­ter cheese made from the milk pro­duced from Si­mon Weaver’s herd, which graze the pas­ture at Grey­stones. Not far from the model cow, where I tried my hand at milk­ing, is the real deal. As we watch, one of Si­mon’s cows is brought into the farm­yard with her newly born calf at her side. Lenka takes us to see what’s called the Free­dom Milker, an amaz­ing modern ma­chine which milks the cows robot­i­cally as they need it. The cows are trained to use the ma­chine them­selves, and when they need milk­ing they make their way to the milker, stand in place, be­fore the ma­chin­ery at­taches pumps to the cow’s ud­ders and col­lects the milk. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to watch and adds to the Grey­stones’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

“What I love is the com­bi­na­tion of every­thing. We have the wildlife, the his­tory and the dairy farm,” says Lenka.

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced the Grey­stones’ magic my­self, I have to agree with her. This truly is a spe­cial place where time seems to stand still and one can re­ally imag­ine fel­low hu­mans liv­ing and work­ing here 6,000 years ago.

‘The cows are trained to use the ma­chine them­selves, when they need milk­ing’

Emily on step­ping stones across the River Eye

Vol­un­teer Sarah Dur­rant, a pro­fes­sional gar­dener, at­tends the wildlife gar­den

Grey­stones Iron Age roundhouseWil­bert Smith, El­lie Har­ri­son and Roger Mort­lock ABOVE: ABOVE LEFT:

Mother and child at Grey­stones Farm

The Free­dom Milker

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