Tracy Spiers sends us a post­card from the cap­i­tal of the Cotswolds

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE -

His­tory oozes out of its pores and en­cour­ages the imag­i­na­tion to spark into life so it's easy to be­lieve you're back in Ro­man times, fight­ing gla­di­a­tors or watch­ing bear bait­ing in the town's amp­ithe­atre. Cirences­ter is de­light­ful both in terms of ar­chi­tec­tural ap­pear­ance and con­tent. With a myr­iad of path­ways and quirky in­de­pen­dent shops to ex­plore, a plethora of cre­ative en­deav­ours to take part in or visu­ally en­joy and pic­turesque Abbey grounds to wan­der at will, this mar­ket town never dis­ap­points. I send this post­card from Cirences­ter, com­plete with the dis­cov­er­ies and view­points from four mem­bers of my fam­ily - both the young and not so young. TRACY SPIERS

I am par­tic­u­larly fond of this town partly be­cause it fu­els two of my pas­sions, art and his­tory. Ev­i­dence of cre­ative in­no­va­tion and pro­duc­tion is ev­ery­where, as is ev­i­dence of who used to live and work here. I take my tribe to the New Brew­ery Arts for our first stop­ping point to show them the di­ver­sity of arts and crafts made here. We also look at the cour­ses com­ing up for the Au­tumn sea­son which in­clude ce­ram­ics, stained glass, book­bind­ing, relief print­mak­ing paint­ing and draw­ing, stone carv­ing, nee­dle felt­ing and dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy. There are also art work­shops for chil­dren on Satur­days and af­ter school dur­ing the week which look ap­peal­ing as well as adult mas­ter­classes.

Next door is New Brew­ery Art’s for­mer 19th cen­tury Cotswold stone brew­ery bar­rel store is now beau­ti­fully and cre­atively trans­formed into 21st cen­tury ac­com­mo­da­tion for up to 43 peo­ple over two floors in 14 rooms. It’s a wel­com­ing bou­tique hos­tel, de­scribed as ‘bud­get ac­com­mo­da­tion with high end flair.’

This is one of the new­est builds in the cen­tre, but I should note here that on our way into the town, we pass The Royal Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity, the old­est agri­cul­tural col­lege in the English speak­ing world, founded by the 4th Earl Bathurst in 1845.

Be­ing a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Cirences­ter, I am de­ter­mined to dis­cover some­thing new. My artis­tic eye and pas­sion for colour and bold­ness leads me to M.A.D.E. in Sil­ver Street, which stands for Mak­ers and De­sign­ers Em­po­rium, set up in 2008 by Louise Bon­ham and Sheena Jen­nings Dash. It cel­e­brates the hand-made, the fun in­ven­tive cre­ative spirit and show­cases the work of artists both lo­cal and fur­ther afield. It’s an unashamed ex­pres­sion of ev­ery­thing that can pos­si­bly be made from all kinds of ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing pa­per, tex­tiles and clay and it’s a trea­sure trove which changes from week to week as con­tribut­ing artists get in­spired. Louise sums up what it is like to work in Cirences­ter. “I love the ar­chi­tec­ture, peo­ple are very friendly, I love all the in­de­pen­dent shops and here in our shop, we are con­stantly chang­ing stock. Only this week two new mak­ers came in with new things they had made, which makes it ex­cit­ing.”

The chil­dren grav­i­tate to­wards one of their favourite parts of town, Black Jack Street where two shops in par­tic­u­lar are their must vis­its, notably The Candy Man, a tra­di­tional sweet shop run by Julie and Matthew Townsend, and Oc­tavia’s, an award­win­ning chil­drens’ book­shop which is a homely wel­com­ing venue to search for that must-have read. We pop into both, be­fore meet­ing Phil Day and Rob Sparkes, joint own­ers of Xanadu, which sells fair trade, painted fur­ni­ture and house­hold gifts. I im­me­di­ately start sing­ing Olivia New­ton John’s ti­tle song from the 1980 film of the same name. My chil­dren turn away in em­bar­rass­ment, but the own­ers don’t. “We couldn’t think of a name to call the shop. We were driv­ing home one night and Xanadu came on the ra­dio, so that’s what we de­cided,” says Phil. They tell me it’s the com­rade­ship of the street com­mu­nity which they par­tic­u­larly love and pay trib­ute to Mark from The Golden Cross for or­gan­is­ing fund-rais­ing events to help his neigh­bours. Adorable pub dog Franklin ap­par­ently has his own Face­book page.

Phil and Rob’s trad­ing neigh­bor Geor­gia Buf­foni has been run­ning Pick a Pot and Paint for the past 10 years. “I love Cirences­ter’s in­de­pen­dent shops, com­mu­nity spirit, its his­tory. It is such a beau­ti­ful town and it’s ever evolv­ing whilst not for­get­ting its his­toric roots.”

We find out more about those roots by vis­it­ing the award-win­ning Corinium Mu­seum, which is full of sig­nif­i­cant finds from the Ro­man town of Corinium and demon­strates how im­por­tant it was. Corinium was the sec­ond largest Ro­man town out­side Lon­don and the ma­jor Ro­man ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­tre for south-west Bri­tain. The girls en­joy mak­ing mo­saic de­signs, in­ter­act­ing with the dis­plays and back­ing away from the not-so-nice facts about the past. I am par­tic­u­larly drawn to pic­tures of the amp­ithe­atre as it would have looked in the early 2nd cen­tury AD. Oval with two en­trances, it was one of the largest in Ro­man Bri­tain and was used to hold pop­u­lar at­trac­tions of the day in­clud­ing glad­i­a­to­rial com­bat, bear-bait­ing, an­i­mal hunts, box­ing and wrestling. The mu­seum is beau­ti­fully laid out and pro­vides those all im­por­tant clues to how our pre­de­ces­sors’ lived. It al­ways sur­prises me how that de­sire for in­ven­tive­ness, in­quis­i­tive­ness and ad­ven­ture is a hu­man trait which lives on. I meet Sarah Lewis, the Mu­seum’s Dig­i­tal En­gage­ment Of­fi­cer and she tells me about the Stone Age to Corinium Project which will bring new im­prove­ments to fa­cil­i­ties and the col­lec­tion in the near fu­ture (see panel).

As part of the Mu­seum com­plex, Cirences­ter Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre of­fers use­ful tips about at­trac­tions and what’s com­ing up. It’s here I find out more about Cirences­ter Town Walks which take place every Sun­day and Bank Hol­i­day up un­til Oc­to­ber 21. Start­ing at 3pm from the Church Porch, the 70-minute walk is led by a Civic So­ci­ety Guide. Im­por­tant dates to note com­ing up in­clude Mop Fair on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 8 and Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 15 (mid­day to 10pm) which takes place in its orig­i­nal home of the Mar­ket Place. This fam­ily friendly event has plenty of ac­tion, with all the fun of the fair. The Au­tumn Fes­ti­val on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 20 and 21 (9am-5pm) is a cel­e­bra­tion of the end of har­vest, with lo­cal fayre, the har­vest scare­crow, and a barn style hub with lo­cal food and en­ter­tain­ment. Cirences­ter’s first half marathon takes place on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 28 (9am12.30pm) and fin­ishes in Mar­ket Place, whilst Sun­day Novem­ber 11 marks We Re­mem­ber 2018, for the 100-year an­niver­sary of the ar­mistice. Corn Hall Christ­mas Bazaar runs from Sun­day, Novem­ber 25 to Mon­day, De­cem­ber 24 (Sun to Thurs­day, 10am-4pm) and Satur­day De­cem­ber 1 is Ad­vent Fes­ti­val, the town’s fa­mous kick start to Christ­mas with fes­tive mar­kets, com­mu­nity en­ter­tain­ment, celebrity light switch-on and fire­works bo­nanza. Other dates to note re­gard­ing mar­kets on Mar­ket Place are Cirences­ter Char­ter Mar­ket every Mon­day and Fri­day; Farm­ers Mar­ket every 2nd and 4th Satur­day of the month and Cirences­ter Arts and Craft Mar­ket on the first Satur­day of the month.

An­other venue to note is the ex­hi­bi­tion space ad­join­ing the Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre and Mu­seum. To­day we find an im­pres­sive show en­ti­tled Colour and Line, show­cas­ing the work of four Cotswold artists – Va­lerie Jor­dan, Daphne Mal­fig­giani, Ann Crack­nell and Chris­tine Smith. In­spired by land­scapes and a love for colour, these artists pro­vide an ex­u­ber­ance of pas­sion and per­sonal re­sponse to what they see us­ing a va­ri­ety of me­dia. It is up­lift­ing, en­gag­ing and cer­tainly in­spires the de­sire to cap­ture mo­ments. It is a lovely place to show work and well worth vis­it­ing to see the wealth of lo­cal tal­ent.

To­day as we walk along Mar­ket Place, we ad­mire an­other piece of mod­ern art. This is Pink Lady Danc­ing with Big Brown Dog, made in 2000 by sculp­tor So­phie Ry­der. Be­hind her cre­ation, is one of Cirences­ter’s great­est land­marks, the Church of St John the Bap­tist, con­sid­ered Glouces­ter­shire’s largest parish church which was funded by the thriv­ing wool trade of the 13th cen­tury. I took the chil­dren to see the minia­ture replica of the Abbey, which was built in­side the church, made from Lego bricks as part of the Abbey900 cel­e­bra­tions last year. The Bo­leyn Cup is the church’s great­est trea­sure. Made of sil­ver gilt for Anne Bo­leyn in 1535, the year be­fore her ex­e­cu­tion, the cup was given to physi­cian Richard Master by Anne’s daugh­ter Queen Eliz­a­beth 1. He sub­se­quently pre­sented it to Cirences­ter Church.

The more en­er­getic of the group – namely my­self and 11-year-old Kezia ven­ture off into the Abbey Grounds to climb trees, find the swings and come across one of Cirences­ter’s fa­mous hares on the way. We are also im­pressed by a wall full of mo­saic pan­els which were de­signed and made by lo­cal young peo­ple to com­mem­o­rate the 900th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Abbey which stood on the grounds they are now placed. They were put up this sum­mer and are a wel­come ad­di­tion to the park.

Kez and I walk back into the town cen­tre to find the rest of our party who have been ex­plor­ing the in­de­pen­dent shops. I take a visit to Corn Hall Mar­ket, jot down a few menus and venues I want to try out with Mr Spiers notably Made by Bob, Côte Brasserie and He Says She Waf­fles, rec­om­mended by our el­dest daugh­ter Naomi.

Be­fore driv­ing home, we all ven­ture out to the re­mains of Corinium’s Ro­man Amp­ithe­atre, main­tained by English Her­itage, and I let the younger ones run up and down the steep slopes to ap­pre­ci­ate its struc­ture, while Mum and I prac­tice our glad­i­a­tor skills! In the Mu­seum, I picked up a hel­met and had chance to ap­pre­ci­ate the weight of the heavy at­tire they used to wear so I am amazed the Ro­mans were able to move at all! We leave Cirences­ter closer to his­tory than when we ar­rived and very glad that life is some­what dif­fer­ent to­day.

Tracy by the lake­side at Cirences­ter

Kezia and Rosie Spiers out­side the New Brew­ery Arts

Mak­ing mo­saic de­signs at Corinium Mu­seum

Kezia finds art­work in a tree trunk

So­phie Ry­der’s Pink Lady danc­ing with Big Brown Dog sculp­ture

Found a hare!

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