Cotswold Character: Air Vice-Marshal David Walker
PUBLISHED: 11:06 18 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013
Air Vice-Marshal David Walker's idea of a perfect weekend starts very early on a bright June morning. Words by Katie Jarvis, photography by Shaun Thompson.
DAVID WALKER is an Air Vice-Marshal of the Royal Air Force and Master of The Queens Household. He heads up the department responsible for Her Majestys official and private entertaining, both at home and overseas.
That could mean anything from a small dinner to a state banquet or a garden party for 8,000 people, he explains. Its a job that brings him into contact with a vast array of the great and good among other heads of state, hes met four US Presidents; but the real privilege, he says, is to serve the Queen herself. She is a remarkable person, and my working life is one of constant variety. David is married to Jane, a community nurse.
Where do you live and why?
We live at Bisley and have been there for just coming up to a year. Weve lived in the Cotswolds for well over 25 years: firstly at Charlbury; then Frampton Mansell, where we spent 23 very happy years. However, we always had a yearning to live in a slightly bigger village with more community life, and Bisley is ideal in that sense. From its eagerly-awaited annual pantomime through to the big breakfasts, which most recently attracted 120 happy villagers, theres so much going on. Bisley also has the advantage of being only two or three miles from our old house so, although the move was in some ways a difficult one, it didnt involve separation from all that Jane and I have known for over half our lives.
Whats your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
A bright summers morning in June, when the heat of the previous day is still in the air and the countryside is full of colours, birdsong and wonderful smells. We would get up really early, perhaps around 5 oclock, and take Winter and Abby, our two black labradors, for a two-hour walk whilst the world is still our own, then home for breakfast. Afterwards, we would set off in my 50-year-old MGA over to Tetbury for a quick snoop around the antique shops and see if any bargains are to be had. Then wed motor to the Bibury Court hotel for lunch, followed by driving back to Bisley for an afternoon in the garden or working on the allotment. Dinner would be at one of our favourite haunts, and the Sunday would be spent once again in glorious sunshine, on a walk from Bisley to Sheepscombe and home again.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I wouldnt live far from where we are now, but there are some beautiful properties around and about Bisley perhaps in Throughham.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I wouldnt like to live in one of the honeypot villages, which are overrun by tourists in summer. For me, a large part of the attraction of the Cotswolds is their tranquility; and these villages have sadly lost that essential ingredient.
Wheres the best pub in the area?
We are immensely fortunate, in this part of the Cotswolds, in having such a plethora of brilliant pubs. For a winters evening, theres no cosier place than the Bear at Bisley or the Stirrup Cup. For a summers day, it would have to be the Crown at Frampton Mansell or the Butchers Arms at Sheepscombe. Both have the most extravagant views in peaceful countryside.
And the best place to eat?
Once again, were not short of wonderful places to eat around Bisley. For pub food, apart from those mentioned above, we very much enjoy the food and excellent service at Fostons Ash (Birdlip). For something a bit smarter, I would head for the Bell at Sapperton or Calcot Manor. And if its a money-no-object evening, then Whatley Manor.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
Its not a tearoom at all, but somewhere I do like to go for tea is Cowley Manor. Tea on the terrace, overlooking the lake and gardens, is a wonderful way to while away a summers afternoon.
What would you do for a special occasion?
Go ballooning! The only time Ive done it was down in Wiltshire where, essentially as a piece of live ballast, I was one of a team of three from RAF Halton who won the Inter-Services Ballooning Competition at Middle Wallop. It would be splendid to do it again over the Cotswolds and drift over all the places I know and love, but seeing them from a very different perspective.
Whats the best thing about the Cotswolds?
It is, without question, one of the most beautiful and serene areas of Britain. We are very fortunate to live here and I think most people who do so appreciate its very special qualities
and the worst?
But a couple of particular bees in my bonnet are people who toss litter carelessly from their motor cars, or even empty their ashtrays at the roadside. Much worse, though, are those who dangerously speed along Cotswold lanes, relying on those who drive with reasonable caution to get out of their way. They have no idea that pedestrians, children on bikes, or riders on horseback could be just around the next corner.
Which shop could you not live without?
Im not a great shopper but the shops Id least like to live without are the George Stores at Bisley and our excellent farm shop (Stancombe Beech). Very few villages now possess these important amenities.
Whats the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
Chedworth Roman Villa and the woods that surround it. The villa provides a wonderful insight into life here 1800 years ago. Whenever I visit, it always reminds me that people just like us lived and worked around Cirencester then, with all the same hopes, fears and aspirations that we do now. And I am sure they cared about the Cotswolds and loved them just as we do today.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
Id start with asparagus (and I might just be cheating here because I suspect it would come from the Vale of Evesham; but that is our next-door neighbour!) For the main course, it would be lamb from Copsegrove Farm in Bisley, just across the road from us. To accompany this would be vegetables from our newly-acquired allotment; and then raspberries from the same source. Again, I might have to cheat here and accompany the raspberries with some clotted cream from Cornwall.
Whats your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
There are so many but, when I used to drive from Frampton Mansell to what was then the RAF Command Headquarters at Innsworth, I was always uplifted by the view from the road as you descend down into Daglingworth from Sapperton.
Whats your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Im afraid it would have to be Bisley. The village itself is a conservation area, tucked into the hillside, with an eclectic array of Cotswold-stone houses. It has everything you could hope to find in a village and, most of all, a very strong sense of community. There are so many other beautiful villages, though, and another great favourite is Coln St Aldwyns, with its shop, pub and church.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
Stone walls, green fields and sweeping vistas.
Whats your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
Undoubtedly St Mary Magdalen in Tetbury. I always imagine, I am sure wrongly, that the burghers of Tetbury looked at the lovely spire in Kemble and decided to go one better. There cannot be a more beautiful church.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Leave if I didnt have to.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Arent these very strange terms? But we do need balance and the important thing is that homes, however modest or grand, should be fit-for-purpose and suitable for their environment. Im sure many more new homes will be built in the Cotswolds in the coming years and I believe they should be designed to add to, not detract from, what we have.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
In my mind, the Cotswolds are bounded by Moreton-in-Marsh to the north, Bath to the south, Wotton-under-Edge to the west, and Woodstock to the east but I am sure that has cut out someone who will be rightly outraged.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
A piece of Cotswold-stone wall.
What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?
I would banish the spectre of wind turbines from the Cotswolds. I am entirely supportive of renewables as part of the energy mix, provided they stack up economically. However, the idea that these gigantic machines should be erected on the crests of Cotswold hills is, to me, dreadful. As we all well know, the Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; it is a precious and protected landscape. This is not about nimbyism; this is everyones backyard for all to enjoy. And make no mistake: if wind turbines do come to Bisley, and there are those who wish to achieve just that, it will set a precedent: no hilltop in the Cotswolds would be safe.
Whats the first piece of advice youd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Buy the excellent 1:50000 scale maps of the Cotswolds and start walking.
And which book should they read?
Cider with Rosie.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
Dozens. One of the great things about this area is the network of bridleways and footpaths that used to service what is now known as the Cotswold Canal. You can still walk for many miles around here without bumping into anyone. If pressed for a favourite, though, I really enjoy walking around the village of Edgeworth, which must be one of the quietest places in the UK.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
The Royal International Air Tattoo: I have the privilege of being one of the two serving officers who are its vice presidents. Each year, the tattoo brings tens of thousands of visitors to the Cotswolds to see the greatest air show in Europe. Its also a charitable endeavour, which has raised around 1.8 million over the last five years, much of which has gone to youth projects. Whatever these young people decide to go on and do, the activities that are funded are fantastic training for life.
My own particular air-tattoo highlight is the dinner on the Friday night, which is a great gathering of air force people. Before we go in to eat, theres a Beat of the Retreat, when the RAF Ensign is brought down for the evening with a musical accompaniment. There then follows a fly-past by a Spitfire, which does a victory roll, often against big golden clouds as the sun sets. And, as the Last Post is played, I suspect everyone has prickles running down their spines and one or two have prickles in their eyes as well. A very, very emotional occasion.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I would need to be both invisible and multilingual because it would be a great pleasure to sit on one or two of the tourist coaches that pass through the Cotswolds
and hear what they have to say about us and the places where we live.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To Isambard Kingdom Brunel because he built the Great Western Railway which, apart from being one of the greatest engineering achievements of its age, allows those of us who have to work in London to get back to the Cotswolds as swiftly as possible.
The Cotswolds aspic or asphalt?
Asphalt every time. The roads in the Cotswolds are in a shocking state after this last winter. I suppose this has the merit of slowing down some of the maniac drivers, but it certainly doesnt make for a comfortable ride in my ancient car.
Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
Quiet satisfaction about our amazing good luck in living here.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Rosie of course!
The Royal International Air Tattoo takes place on July 16-17 at RAF Fairford. Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are available online at www.airtattoo.com, or via the free hotline, 0800 107 1940. General one-day admission per adult costs 39 (under 16s free).