Every year, as I return to the Cotswolds, I stare out at the green rolling meadows, the hedgerows full of wild roses and foaming Queen Anne's lace, the gabled houses built of glowing golden stone, and the shadowy glades of trees, their roots velvet with moss ... and I feel so happy, so blessed. We drive on roads that Romans once marched along, and pass ancient burial mounds built thousands of years ago, And every village has a history, a story ...
Our second tour for my History, Mystery & Magic retreat is an exploration of the Cotswolds - or, at least, the parts we can easily reach from Broadway, the village in which we are based. For anyone who loves gardens and flowers (like me), the Cotswolds villages are an absolute delight. Roses big enough to fill the palm of your hand, and heady with the sweetest scent. Foxgloves bending over a foam of seaside daisies. Rows of purple lavender so rich with scented oils, the air above shimmers. Elder trees hanging with creamy-white blossoms.
We had lunch in Stow-on-Wold, one of my favourite towns, not least because it has this wonderful church door, framed by ancient yew trees:
Then we visited the Rollright Stones, a small and very beautiful circle of stones nearby. It's one of my own personal favourite places in the Cotswolds. You can walk the circle (I took off my boots & stocking so I could do it barefoot), and pick a bunch of leaves and flowers to leave on the tallest of the stones. The Rollright Stones are surrounded by a circle of trees, including the seven trees scared to the Druids - ash, oak, birch, fir, rowan, hawthorn and elder. I added in wild roses and Queen Anne's lace for a pretty bouquet. There are similar offerings left on the stones, including a sheaf of wheat, plus coloured ribbons were tied to the stone which had holes worn through them. I saw white, red and black ribbons.
There is a beautiful story behind the formation of the stones, about a man who would be king and the witch ho tricked him:
The Rollright stone story is different and was first referred to in print by Camden in 1586, since when the tale has become considerably more elaborate.
A King with ambitions to conquer all of England had got as far as the Rollrights when up popped a witch. According to some accounts she was Mother Shipton of Shipton-under-Wychwood (c.1488-1551). She challenged the King with these words -
“Seven long strides shalt thou take And if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be.”
Off went the King, shouting -
“Stick, stock, stone As King of England I shall be known.”
On his seventh stride the ground rose up before him in a long mound sometimes known as the Arch-Druid’s barrow. The witch laughed and declared -
“As Long Compton thou canst not see King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone For King of England thou shalt be none; Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be And I myself an eldern tree.”
And so it was that the King became the King Stone, his men the King’s Men Stone Circle, and his treacherous and conniving knights the Whispering Knights, although some say that the knights were actually at prayer.
Tradition has it that one day the spell will be broken. The King and his men will return to life and continue with their conquest of England. (Unless they meet another witch).