Monday, 29 March 2010


Trying to catch this weekends Formula 1 race in Melbourne hasn’t been easy due to the time difference between the UK and Australia, and the fact that it was my wedding anniversary. Spending a romantic weekend in the Cotswold’s whilst avoiding hearing the result on the News was a massive challenge. Fortunately driving around the idyllic Midlands villages with the Radio off, and avoiding pubs with the TV on, meant that I missed the result before getting a chance to see it in all its antipodean glory.
Despite the race being full of incidents, excitement and intrigue I decided to write about my experience in some of the most beautiful villages in the UK if not the world, or at least they would be if it weren’t for a few minor details.

We stayed in the White Hart Royal in Moreton in Marsh, which earned its Royal title due to the once King Charles I sheltering in the inn following the battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, so you would imagine a building with such patronage and cultural importance would be a perfect setting to soak up the history and authenticity of the last 360 years, and you would be right and er wrong as well. Yes the hotel had meter thick walls made of the best Cotswold stone, ceilings so low that you need to kneel to change a light bulb and floors so uneven that the addition of alcohol wasn’t required for that ‘stop the boat rocking’ experience. However there was something wrong, something not quite right, it took me ages to put my finger on what made the whole place seem unauthentic, dull and dare I say it – lacking character. Like so many public buildings these days it had been attacked by the most destructive force know to man, something more threatening than global warming, Bin Lardin or Simon Cowell – the dreaded health and safety executive.

The once character filled, exposed beamed, leaded windowed, crooked walled, damp filled, wood rotted rooms, have now been filled with illuminated exit signs, smoke detectors, sprinkler devices, fire extinguishers, anti slip pads, dehumidifiers, smoke blankets, and warning signs sucking all sense of character out of every last priest hole. You can throw as many four-poster bed’s, coalscuttles, iron baths, muskets and coat of arms at a place, but a poorly placed health and safety poster will ruin it all. I recognize that Health and Safety is useful for those that struggle with the concept of self control, self preservation and don’t realize that hanging your head out of a moving train whilst it passes under a bridge or juggling chain saws – may not be a good idea, but do we really need to protect a building that has survived 3 century’s, a dozen kings and queens, every major modern invention, 2 world wars, and the black death, all without the need of a Health and Safety lecture, or a‘Mind Your Head’ sign?

Following a fantastic stay in Moreton, we decided to move to the village of Bourton on the Water, a place so cute, quaint and chocolate boxy that you could feel that you have stepped back into the land of Miss Marple, Wuthering Heights or Wind in the Willows. With its shallow stream dividing the villages yellow stoned buildings, which are peppered by craft shops, teahouses and ye, olde bars and inns. A victim of its own success and never quiet it’s a focal point for foreign and local visitors alike, parking is at a premium as is a seat in one of the dozens of cream tea emporiums. The people seated drinking pots of Earl Grey, Ceylon and English Breakfast, whilst eating fruit scones and Cucumber Sandwiches are the expected blue rinsed octogenarians and Bikers! Yes you did read correctly, Bikers, or Bikeys as their called in Australia. Hundreds of multi coloured leather condom wearing two wheeled demons.

I thought that those that wish to dress in skin tight leather, donned highly polished helmet’s and straddling throbbing twins or 4 pots at weekends, congregated at rufty tufty ‘mens’ pubs, seaside towns or local land marks. I hadn’t realised that they all met down the local cream tea parlour!

As we sat down to watch the world go by, the children played pooh sticks from the foot bridge, the Barbour clad men and women walked their springers, and the Japanese tourists capturing another gigabyte of photographs, any resemblance of silence was broken not by the tweet of the birds, but the roar of CBR’s, Moto Guzzi’s Kawasaki and Suzuki’s.

Dozen after Dozen of middle-aged men and women roared into the village, wearing their brightly coloured size 18 spandex, beer guts stretching the leather seams to a point of explosion, parking on any spare corner of footpath, before unveiling helmet hair from hell then settling down to a nice mug of Darjeeling and a slice of Victoria sponge.

It’s not quite the picture of rural England I had come to expect, and I don’t have a clue what the foreign visitors make of it all. I guess the money that they spend keeps these villages alive, however I do wonder how long it will be before the bikers drive out the rest of the visitors away or probably more likely those Health and Safety executives will deem that wearing tight fitting leathers and driving 2 wheeled engines after 2 slices of carrot cake far too dangerous and ban them, perhaps those in charge of the illuminated exit signs aren’t too bad the after all?

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