168: Stroud and Malmesbury

OS Explorer map 168: Stroud, Tetbury & Malmesbury – I do not own this map, and had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 26th December 2018.

Unlike last year, when my family had a huge Christmas gathering of all 20 or so of us, with all the madness and screaming children and general merriment that that entails, this year was a smaller affair – we have an arrangement where in even-numbered years, all of my cousins and their families come to us, while in odd-numbered years they go to their in-laws. In those years, it’s usually just me, my parents, and my mum’s brother and his wife and children. This year was even smaller, my cousin Guacamole having moved to New Zealand! It was very pleasant.

It was also my first Christmas as a vegetarian. I made a mushroom pie, which was broadly appreciated, even if the top was a little burnt!

Anyway, Christmas over, the very next day the Dearest Progenitors and I departed for a few days away together before I went back to work. Our destination was Exmoor – the only one of England’s national parks I hadn’t been to yet, so I was excited by that! [1] We left about 10am for the four-and-a-half hour drive to Lynton in Devon. I always like to try to plan in breaks in interesting places when on long trips, and so it was that after a pleasant drive through the Cotswolds, we stopped for lunch in Malmesbury.

Malmesbury was very nice! We parked in a central car park, and walked over to have a look at the Abbey first. Unfortunately it was closed, but we could still look at it from the outside.

Malmesbury Abbey

The abbey is partly derelict, but a part of the nave is still in use as Malmesbury’s parish church.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at university, so Malmesbury is a very familiar name to me! I spent a good chunk of my second year picking apart Latin poems by Aldhelm, [2] once abbot here, and the Abbey is also the burial place of Æthelstan, a particularly notable 10th-century king (not least for having been the subject of an obsession by my friend Millicent for a good while…).

Father dearest standing in the spectacular entry arch!

We then went for lunch in a pub named The Whole Hog, where I had a very interesting (and very satisfyingly cheesy) “cauliflower cheese soup”.

From there, we had a brief wander around town, stopping to buy some supplies in the Co-op, and failing to find anywhere open where I could buy a fridge magnet, before going back to the car park, and continuing on our drive to the West Country!

Four days later

Four days later, on the 30th December, our holiday was done, and we were driving home. Again, I tried to find a town to stop in where we could have lunch, and ended up picking Stroud for not much reason at all, which is also in this map area. So stop there we did!

Stroud was, frankly, a little disappointing. It was fairly dingy and generally a pretty average-looking town; not as nice as I was expecting for a Cotswold market town. Anyway, we parked up near a large branch of Waitrose, and had a little wander around the town.

In the end, we found a very pleasant little Italian restaurant and had lunch there before we left for Northamptonshire and home.

[1] That completes all of England’s national parks, but there’s still the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales that I haven’t been to yet before I complete the UK! I’m also not entirely certain that I’ve been to the South Downs, although I’m pretty sure.

[2] Among Aldhelm’s works are a series of enigmata or riddles; we read a selection of them in my medieval Latin class in second year, and I also wrote an essay on them for a supervision once. I must have had far too much time on my hands as a student, because, pretentious show-off that I clearly am, I started off my essay with my own attempt at a Latin enigma, written vaguely in his style – it was my first ever attempt at writing in hexameters, and there are several outright errors in it, but I present it for any Latinists among my readership to laugh at here:

Aldhelmus monachōrum abbās deciēs decem enigmata scrīpsit,
Tatuīnus lectīs et eīs narrāvit ab ōre
Dēna quater variīs dē rēbus. Saecula plūra
Post, cunctīs ingentium odīs poetārum vorātīs,
Īnspicere ausus sum ex iuventūte dominōs.
Hanc causam ēlēgī prō cursū in mare amplum:
Versificātōrum mē nunc trāns aequore cernis.

Which I intended to translate as:

Aldhelm, abbot of monks, wrote ten times ten enigmata,
And Tatwine, having read these, spoke with his mouth
four times ten (enigmata) about various things. Many ages
later, having devoured all the verses of the intelligent poets,
I have dared, out of my youth, to criticise the masters.
I chose this topic for my voyage into a sea of plenty:
You now see me across the sea of the poets.

The most heinous of my grevious errors is that I somehow didn’t notice that the first line, rather than being a hexameter, has seven feet! My supervisor was very charitable about this, theorising (jokingly) that it might be a hypermetric line as are found occasionally in Old English poetry. Aldhelm is supposed to have been an accomplished poet in Old English too, but unfortunately none of those writings survive.

Aldhelm’s works also include the twin work De Virginitate, On Virginity, a work addressed to the nuns of the Abbey at Barking. You can see some of my friends’ idea to what the nuns’ response might have been to Aldhelm’s “helpful” advice in this sketch from our annual sketch show, the Yule Play, entitled Nuns Just Wanna Have Fun. You get the idea.

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