The Cotswolds are a region which more than any other exemplifies what foreigners, especially Americans, think of as England. Who can blame them, really? It's an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world, dotted with picturesque villages, glorious rolling countryside, houses made from golden stone, and in August, full of the scent of summer's last roses, and with many magnificent trees showing a touch of the coming autumn in their foliage.
A few days ago I came back from a short visit to this part of the world. We visited Hidcote, and Painswick Rococo Garden and Westonbirt Arboretum, but one of the highlights was a visit on a Saturday afternoon to Chipping Campden. We'd gone to see an antiques and crafts supermarket and enjoyed walking up and down the fine main street of the town, admiring the houses.
I bought a Carnival glass bowl at a knock down price because I love Carnival glass.
And then, we went to visit the Church of St James.
On our way into the town, we'd passed the magnificent gateway below, and my friend Philippa (I'd been at school with her so have known her for about 60 years and know she's very clued up about history) told me the story of the wonderfully named Baptist Hicks, who built a grand house here in the 17th century, and who, during the English Civil War, fled to the West Country. His house was burned to the ground, and only a few parts of it remain. Below is the restored gateway.
Very near the remains of Baptist Hicks' house is the church of St James. The earliest church on this site dates from the 12th Century when Henry II visited Campden to confirm its first charter. St James' stands on a knoll outside the town and is visible from whichever direction you approach it. This was a wool town in the 14th and 15th Centuries and the prosperity enjoyed during that time led to the great expansion and beautification of the church.
We were allowed to go in even though the church was about to close. We admired the effigies of Baptist Hicks and his wife, and marvelled at the stained glass windows. There's something about a church in the early evening which is very soothing. The setting is not as grand as that of a cathedral, but the smaller scale is comforting.
After the church closed, we went out to the graveyard. The souls buried here have an enviable spot from which to contemplate eternity. If you are of the opinion that eternity is a ridiculous concept, this might seem a strange statement. I don't believe in an afterlife of any kind myself but still, the fact that so many bodies lie here and have lain here for hundreds of years is paradoxically uplifting. I'm not sure why that should be, but I like the idea of the dead becoming part of the landscape, especially when the landscape is as beautiful as it is here. I gave a thought to the men and women and children who had lived here once and now are in a way represented by the trees above their graves and the stones which stand as their memorial.