I’ve just got back from a weekend in The Forest of Dean, an ancient woodland in Gloucestershire bordered by the Rivers Wye (to the North), Severn (South), Gloucester, the main burg to the East and Wales in a westerly direction.
Even in Winter it’s stunning so I can only imagine what foliage, snowdrops and bluebells must transform it into. The wild bores who are digging each and every grass verge into oblivion within this historic royal hunting ground have certainly discovered its life giving essence. I am too sad that I didn’t get to see one. I did, however, get to see a lot of sheep – real sheep that are distinguishable from each other and who literally live on the hard shoulder – risking life and limb for greener blade of grass across the lane. I forgot to buy a leg of lamb so exhausted was I, homeward bound.
I shared the driving with my new friend, Gracie. She’s not really a new friend. Nor is she called Gracie but is seriously considering the change.
“What is Mrscarmichael on about?” you ask.
It’s a more than reasonable question. So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
I was off to meet my 89 year old second cousin, Gertie who has recently ‘found’ me and is very cross that the last thirty years of my UK residence have been wasted.
“I might die tomorrow,” she opened with as she smacked my hand.
In reality I don’t think there’s much chance of that. I have never seen someone run on sticks with such agility. Boar diggings, grave stones, pub slate floors and strangers’ bedrooms were no match for my octogenarian in-law. Gracie and I were left breathless.
Gertie’s best friend (who she’s known ‘since a foetus’) is called Amelia. She is 90 and not quite so nimble on her pins. She is also ever so slightly deaf. Hence the Gracie misunderstanding. T…… chose to let it go.
Gertie is staying with Amelia for a fortnight in Coleford, the town that my father’s side of the family hails from and where my grandfather was born. The lane bares my name. It’s a nice feeling.
Granddad and his many siblings were raised in Homestead. The boys, like their father worked the drift mines on their hands and knees. Amelia’s husband mined Hopewell until 1990. On his hands and knees. I can’t get my head round it. Her family stayed in Coleford whereas Gertie (who wants half her ashes scattered in the backyard of Homestead and the remainder strewn over Mount Kilimanjaro) and my ancestor have lived more peripatetic existences.
My grandfather and two of his brothers chanced their luck in New Zealand and Australia and that, as you can see, is where I come in. I feel closest to this strand because they are the reason I could stay indefinitely in this green and pleasant land.
So this is the outside of Homestead.
Amelia stayed in the car while Gertie, Gracie and I investigated every external crevice of this house, including the stable, gig shed, earth lavatory location, Uncle Henry’s shed (collapsed), the well and it has to be said we enjoyed a jolly good peer through the bay window.
“I hear a car,” Gertie said as she clambered over garden detritus, sticks clasped under her arm. “Good. Now we’ll get somewhere.”
We got into the upstairs bedroom, where her son was conceived, and admired the flag stones in the dining room (off cuts from Liz Hurley’s up the road) and the current owner (who really did not know what had hit him) discovered that his walls are permanently damp because there’s a spring under the cottage.
He took it with more equanimity than I would have if the house were mine. But I don’t think he was firing on all cylinders. Why else would he have let three (forceful) women into his home without a whimper. Perhaps because his wife had just requested a divorce that morning and this chocolate box Forest of Dean dwelling could not even go to fund the alimony so depreciated is its value in these credit crunched days.
“I should have bought it,” Gertie mused but baulked at the price tag.
Thankfully Amelia was still with us when we got back to the car an hour or so later. And we were off to The Dog and Muffler for a late lunch. This was Amelia’s choice of restaurant, “because she doesn’t get out much” we had been told by Gertie when we offered to take them for a meal and all things considered it was great pub food supplied at a reasonable price. Gracie and I even managed to purchase at fair trade a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc for later consumption, fearing the local corner shop may not stock our tipple of choice.
Now you know when a photo opportunity is missed – how it sits and rankles. I forgot to get a pic of the dog sporting his muffler, in actuality a school scarf in need of a little wash. The cleanliness or no of the muff however, pales into insignificance beside the dog himself. This is a true Hound of the Baskerville and from his vantage point above my head he watched us eat. I touched him. He was, or had been a real dog. Arrrrgh. We checked. We were right. If anyone has a photo, please attach.
We covered multiple cemeteries, the Hopewell Mine, a village called Newland and homes various of people I can’t quite place into my family tree. I have learnt more than I’ve forgotten and I have forgotten a very great deal. Gertie, it has to be said, could never give someone the silent treatment. She would combust with the pressure of unspoken words. Amelia by comparison was more judicious with her thoughts.
And as Gracie unlocked from afar the arm-chair-on-wheels that we had borrowed from her hubby in order to accommodate four women, two walking sticks and a walker in some comfort, Amelia, in her beautiful ‘Forest’ accent admired the new technology.
“There’s posh,” she said.
A date with How Green Was My Valley is well overdue, methinks.