The International Steam Pages
The Blaisdon Races, 2011
For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:
This page is just one of several describing aspects of our '2011 new life', for earlier and later pages use the West Gloucestershire link above.
If you are looking for the more famous Geordie 'Blaydon Races', you're in the wrong place by over 200 miles and if you use 'a famous search engine' it will struggle for a sensible suggestion. Blaisdon is famed among afficionados for its classic Red Plum (read a technical account). Alas these days all the supermarkets want a common or garden Victoria Plum and this orchard behind the church in the village is said to be the last to produce them commercially - there are many more individual trees in overgrown orchards, private gardens and hedgerows. In fact the links above suggest that the Blaisdon Red is only one of a number of traditional varieties in the area. In both this year (2011) and last, there has been such a glut that baskets of plums have been left on the roadside for passers-by to pick up and many, many more have been left to rot under the trees. Quite why our local supermarket was still selling plums brought from many miles away at an extortionate price, God only knows.
Those familiar with British culture will know about the 'egg and spoon race' (if not then read more about it here). One of the advertised attractions of the village's Summer Fete on August 21st were naturally "plum and spoon races" - more details of the other attractions are in a local newspaper preview. Sadly if you're looking for an eyewitness report and pictures of the races, you'll be disappointed.
We had left Mitcheldean in good time on the bicycles and were nearly half way and approaching Flaxley when my front wheel slowly deflated. The repair kit was at home and there was nothing for it but to walk the remaining three miles. Yuehong has now overcome her phobia of cycling downhill - it took me a month to work out that it was something to do with Beijing having no hills - but she kindly agreed to walk with me. Actually from time to time, she would let me walk ahead while she stripped brambles of blackberries.
When we were about a quarter of a mile short of the village, I realised that Sunday closing time at the Red Hart was rapidly approaching and so I borrowed Yuehong's bike to get some much needed refreshment lined up for both of us. As it happened, there was no hurry, business was so good that it was clearly going to stay open well into the later afternoon. We sat back and soaked up the atmosphere and some "Summer Daze". Who was responsible for making it I know not, but it went down very well and by the time we got to the fete proper the races had been well and truly run. I just sat under a tree and in suitably mellow mood watched the world go past while Yuehong went off to scour the stalls outside the village hall for more of her 'junk' In this case she came back with two decanters, two wooden candle stick holders and a china 'powder puff' holder in her traditional roses style which had set her back GBP2.20 in all. A police van parked in the field next to the pub was getting the full attention of the local youngsters and its siren was wailing almost continuously, however, this was not a threatening situation. Next to it more children were trying the crazy golf.
Actually the main reason for our visit was the prospect of a guided tour of the gardens of adjacent Blaisdon Hall. Two groups had been given the privilege of viewing what is now very much 'private property' and for this we paid GBP 3 each - the proceeds like those from the rest of the fete going towards the Village Hall and Church. Perhaps unsurprisingly, everyone was representative of 'Middle England' and I am pleased to say that, equally unsurprisingly, not a single mobile phone went off or was used throughout the next hour and a half. Below the party gathers in front of some of the many non-indigenous trees and shrubs and then inspects the west side of the Hall.
To be honest, the gardens were 'OK' but they are still a 'work in progress' to restore them to their obvious former glory. What Yuehong wanted to see most of all at close quarters was, understandably, the Hall itself. It dates from ca 1870 when it was built for Henry Crawshay (whose father William was the renowned iron maker of Cyfartha) and who then passed it to one of his sons, Edwin Crawshay. Afterwards it had a number of owners, including the Salesians of Don Bosco who ran it as a boy's school between 1935 and 1995. After a brief spell in the ownership of Hartpury College, it was again taken into private ownership and much money expended to bring it 'up to standard' before it was sold in 2010 to a Russian millionaire for a sum in excess of GBP 4 million. It's certainly magnificent, but to my untrained eye, it looks like a bit of a jumble with a number of later minor additions marring the view on the west side.
The 'front' looks out down to the River Severn and the Cotswolds. Just whose is the crest which appears on three sides of the portico in front of the main door I have been unable to discover. The hall is now technically a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) because it supports about one fifth of Gloucestershire's population of Lesser Horseshoe Bats as well as many Pipistrelle and Brown Long Eared Bats. (There are a number of roosting areas for bats in the Forest of Dean and we see them over our house just before dark on warm evenings - which species they are I don't know.)
Nearby is the church of St Michael and All Angels which is basically a handsome 13th century tower to which has been added (at the same time as the hall was built) a new nave as the church was by then in ruinous condition.
Outside is one of the few (external) traces of the Salesian presence, a bench and small plaques in commemoration of key figures presented by grateful Old Boys. On the right, spot the 'Chinese Rose'... The interior is tasteful but obviously 'modern' from its condition. One of the windows commemorates the MacIver family who were owners of the hall and benefactors of the church - the lady being being the daughter of the second owner Peter Stubbs.
It was a grand day out although I could have done without the exhausting return journey in which I went through the woodland on the hill between Blaisdon and the Abenhall Road at Lower Shapridge. It was more direct and quicker than the road but parts required lifting the bicycle over fallen trees. Yuehong went back along the road and waited patiently while I negotiated the obstacle course and gathered two large bags of horse shit for her roses. I'm sure we'll be back next year with a full report of the races. When I came to repair the inner tube, I expected to find a thorn, instead it was clearly a sub-standard 'Made in China' product with a pin hole failure on a seam, what a surprise! So on future trips I'll be carrying the tools, puncture repair kit and pump with me and next time we're in Gloucester I'll get a couple of spare inner tubes....
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson