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6 remarkable figures that have drawn inspiration from the Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 14:28 11 January 2019

View from Rodborough, by AN Smith. Courtesy of Museum in the Park

View from Rodborough, by AN Smith. Courtesy of Museum in the Park

Courtesy of Museum in the Park

Following in the footsteps of some of the greats to have drawn inspiration from the Cotswolds landscape

New year, new challenges! Such are the rallying calls that January unleashes to perk us up even when the days are short and dark. A brisk walk is always a good idea to add a bit of zip and the Cotswolds landscape offers plenty of scope: the escarpment, river valleys, ancient woodlands; a stroll along higgledy-piggledy limestone streetscapes or a stomp away from it all on the high wolds.

It’s worth recalling too that such special scenes have inspired some of our Greats – Cotswoldians by birth or by choice – who in turn have added to our appreciation of the environment around us. Whilst it’s hard to follow in the footsteps of their achievements, you can still follow in their footsteps across the landscape. Here are just a few who have made their marks:

Stony rich: Ralph Allen

Not only did Ralph Allen (1693–1764) become the first postmaster of Bath and founder of the modern postal system, but he also contributed much to the building of the World Heritage City’s Georgian streetscapes. An entrepreneur extraordinaire, he understood the beauty of local limestone and, moreover, the benefit of buying out all of the existing small mines to combine into a single large operation capable of keeping up with the building boom.

Allen then gave us one of Bath’s “most instagrammable spots”: Prior Park Landscape Garden, created in its sweeping valley with advice from ‘Capability’ Brown and poet Alexander Pope. Allen’s mansion was designed to show off the qualities of locally mined stone, his wealth and fine taste, and the park provides fantastic views over the city. (Prior Park Landscape Garden, open New Year’s Day and weekends through January, nationaltrust.org.uk)

Rock solid: William Smith

The Cotswolds is famous for its rich geology and Jurassic limestone, which influences everything from landscape features to streetscapes. So it’s no coincidence that ‘Father of English Geology’ William Smith (1769–1839) was born and bred in the Oxfordshire village of Churchill. It’s said his childhood hobby of collecting ‘pound stones’ (fossilized sea urchins) and playing marbles with ‘pundibs’ (brachiopods) sparked his earthy interests, which he later put to good use as a land surveyor, canal and sea-defence engineer, and mineral prospector.

Working around Bath, Smith cleverly spotted how different rock layers and their fossils recurred in predictable orders, helping to determine the relative age of ‘strata’ (a word he coined). His later Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland (1815) was the world’s first-ever large-scale geological map of a country.

Churchill and Sarsden Heritage Centre (open from first weekend in April, churchillheritage.org.uk) has displays on Smith and there is a village trail to follow.

The ‘Cotswold Smiths’

So many artists have been drawn to the Cotswolds, but for historical landscape interest take a look at the ‘Cotswold Smiths’ family of artists – father Daniel Newland and sons Alfred Newland and Edward – who produced an array of works in the 19th century.

Daniel, originally from Surrey, moved to Gloucestershire on a recommendation that the ‘wool district’ of the county offered great opportunities to artists, and so it proved. Son Alfred Newland in particular spotted the picturesque appeal of Gothic churches, decaying cloth mills and Tudor farmhouses.

You will find some beautiful landscapes by the Cotswold Smiths – and other artists – at Museum in the Park, Stroud, giving a fascinating opportunity to see how views of the Cotswolds countryside have changed through time (museuminthepark.org.uk).

Master of craft: William Morris

William Morris (1834–1896), who famously declared Bibury “the most beautiful village in England”, was certainly in the vanguard of Arts & Crafts pioneers attracted to the Cotswolds. The way local limestone streetscapes seemed to grow organically from their surroundings, and the distinctive Cotswold vernacular architectural style developed by craftsmen-builders (steep-pitched roofs to mullioned windows), ideally fitted Arts & Crafts notions of authenticity.

Drawing inspiration from nature and this harmonious rural beauty, Morris and Arts & Crafts groups who settled in Broadway, Chipping Campden, and Sapperton added to the Cotswolds’ enduring stock of architectural treasures: from Morris & Co stained glass in All Saints Church, Selsley (allsaintsselsley.org.uk) to the handiwork of Ernest Barnsley and colleagues at Rodmarton Manor, “The English Arts and Crafts Movement at its best” (rodmarton-manor.co.uk).

Word perfect: Laurie Lee

Writers from Ben Jonson to John Betjeman have celebrated the Cotswolds in prose and poetry. But none is more identified with the area than Laurie Lee – whose lyrical memoir Cider with Rosie (published 1959) captured the iconic, wildlife-rich landscapes around his childhood Slad Valley home – a valley “gouged from the Escarpment by the melting ice-caps some time before we got there.” The book, which has sold over six million copies, took Laurie Lee Country around the world.

After you’ve ticked off landmarks from the book in Slad, enjoy a wander around Laurie Lee Wood (the ancient wood the author bought to protect it from development, now in the care of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) and Laurie Lee Wildlife Way whose poetry posts encourage creative connections with the landscape (gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk). You can also see a reconstruction of the kitchen in Cider with Rosie and hear Lee reading from the book at Museum in the Park, Stroud.

Slad Valley, Gloucestershire (c) ChrisAt / Getty ImagesSlad Valley, Gloucestershire (c) ChrisAt / Getty Images

Heads for heights: Luke Howard & Peter Gabriel

While at school in Burford, Luke Howard (1772–1864) developed an interest in cloud watching, later inventing what became the basis of the cloud classification system still used to this day: including descriptive ‘family’ names like cirrus, cumulus and stratus. Keep your eyes on the skies!

Or enjoy a walk with far-reaching views from Solsbury Hill, which gave Peter Gabriel the spiritual motif for his hit single of the same name (nationaltrust.org.uk)

Enjoy a walk with far-reaching views from Solsbury Hill (c) Ian_Redding / Getty ImagesEnjoy a walk with far-reaching views from Solsbury Hill (c) Ian_Redding / Getty Images

For further information on the Cotswolds AONB and the Cotswolds Conservation Board, visit cotswoldsaonb.org.uk.

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