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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Searching for English Civil War sites of 1642

A quest to find more info about the first battle of the English Civil War at Edge Hill in Warwickshire is thwarted. Or is it? Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

It’s lucky I didn’t do home schooling for the whole of my daughters’ educational life. I say this because me and Nell, who has just finished lower sixth, have just spent a whole day trying to find the site of probably one of Britain’s best known civil war battle sites at Edge Hill in Warwickshire. By the end of our hunt we weren’t sure we’d actually seen it… 

Part of the reason Edge Hill – which I know from the internet is big and obvious – is hard to spot is because it’s Ministry of Defence land.  And from experience anyone who is looking for a battlefield will know that years later they are just fields, often with zero clues about the terrible things that happened there. 

Ok, so I couldn’t find a battle site. But it was only because my daughter was studying the English civil war (Roundheads v Cavaliers) that I even heard about Edge Hill. Just in case you didn’t know either it was fought on 23 October in 1642. That’s the sort of easy to memorise date that people use for padlock codes and burglar alarms, but still I didn’t know it!

From the roof at Broughton Castle looking over the
knot garden and moat. What a view. Imagine it with
the Cavalier army coming to get you...
Anyway, Edge Hill was the first of the civil war battles. The Royalists (fighting for Charles 1) won and then headed to the moated Broughton Castle, outside Banbury, in Oxfordshire, to deal with the Parliamentarians living there.  

Over the next four years, fighting was up and down the country with significant battles at Marston Moor in Yorkshire (2 July, 1644) and Naesby, Northamptonshire (14 June, 1645). 

Edge Hill is meant to have a sign commemorating the battle and there’s a four mile walk around it and a 15 mile drive… but we don’t have access to a car and we got rather lost on our walk from the nearby National Trust big house, Upton House.

A key place to visit might have been the Castle Inn (built 100 years after the battle so Prince Rupert did not stay there) which is on the 6 bus route from Stratford-upon-Avon… but the extremely helpful bus driver urged us to hop off at Ratley, just before Castle Inn so we’d be more easily able to find Upton House. And so we missed that commemorative spot.

Distracted from our civil war mission by 1920s
dressing up glamour at Upton House.
On the plus side, Upton House is an easy place to get distracted. Bought by a family with money in 1927 there’s no link to the civil war but plenty of show and tell about the ways soaking an English country house with cash and employing a famous architect (Percy Morely Horder) can make a drafty set of bricks utterly gorgeous. For a few hours we were living in the 1920s imagining invites to a sporting winter weekend with cocktails and chat about art, followed by billiards, squash and maybe a ride out towards that elusive Edge Hill.  

Lord Bearsted made his money as chairman of Shell. Most National Trust houses are filled with bits and bobs from old aristocracy, this one really isn’t. Instead there’s an incredible art collection (the old squash court ended up becoming a gallery) and the most amazing red and silver 1920s jazz bathroom. Along one corridor, which has several rooms of Country Lifecover displays and holidaying on the Riveria, there’s also an impressive collection of Shell posters.

The guides at Upton House do a clever job of keeping their visitors busy. Nell and I were offered a free half hour intro to the house at 12.10pm (which was fab) and then a self-guided tour at 1.10pm. That gave us just enough time to visit the coffee shop, buy a few nick knacks and try to figure out how to get to Edge Hill.

This proved tricky. The heat was one thing (this is the summer of 2018 and relentless 28+ degree days). Figuring out where the bus stopped was another. The National Trust staff/vols, bless them, tried to help but had an old timetable (we knew this because we’d been on the 6 on our journey to the house) which no longer offered a bus at the end of the driveway.  We tried asking for a lift (the cheeky version of hitching) but it was always going to be random if we’d strike lucky or not. We didn’t although several people kindly offered us lifts to Banbury.

Tysoe church in the middle distance. I'm teaching my daughter to find
rural bus stops by following steeples. She thinks I'm very strange.
Optimists to the end, we figured we could walk, see the battlefield, and catch our bus at the village of Tysoe taking us back to AirBnb in Stratford-upon-Avon.

And that’s what we did. It’s just that we think we missed the battlefield and we found the NT map didn’t seem to match the walkers’ footpath signs in the fields. One wheat field was being harvested which was fascinating for my city-living daughter to see the size of modern bales. Under our feet were huge cracks thanks to this summer’s drought. We found a bridleway hugging the top of a hanging wood which gave us glimpses through the trees of a panoramic Warwickshire and then left us a bit confused. 

Looking back towards the wood edge and beyond that
Upton House.
Luckily a lovely woman on a private road stopped her car, sorted us out by pointing towards the Tysoe village church spire and we managed to make it. I can’t correct the map we took off the NT website (which did at least give me some idea about a possible route) as we used instinct relying on the knowledge that as the British landscape was worked in previous centuries by 40 per cent of the workforce, there are always a lot of footpaths that take you in the direction of a village, pub or farm.  Not that this is clear these days as local parishes/counties change the signs to numbers without any clue as to what these numbers mean. What crazy person would give a footpath the name of a bus route? Clearly not one (like me) who hopes to reach a particular point but doesn’t necessarily bring a compass, up to date OS map and 4G.

There are times when the countryside feels like it’s been taken over by men. There’s the ever-faster roads, the obsession with driving, the numerical routes (actually not obvious here in Warwickshire), the computerised/mechanised farming, the vast scale of every field, the super-size kit (tractors, balers, combine harvesters). In short a lack of human scale and – dare I say it a slight obsession with guns, as per the Game Show held the previous weekend nearby at Ragley Hall, Worcestershire.

But for us, thankful to find the 7 at Tysoe (a huge thank you to that bus driver) enjoying the view as we are driven through villages of Tudor-built houses, thatched cottages, pretty front gardens and optimistically-advertised church teas and dog shows at the weekend and suddenly the world is less gender-segregated again. It’s Oh Comely andSimple Thingsversus Dog and Gun.

The Civil War would make a great tour for the thousands of Y12 and Y13 students who study it. It would be interesting for its own sake, but I struggled to find either a tour or a simple way to make this happen. Instead we tourists get passed from visitor honey trap to honey trap. For me and Nell this was beautiful big old houses and the story of Shakespeare’s life and work in Stratford upon Avon – a market town with a lot of shops, cafes, the RSC theatre and 2-3 million visitors annually. 

Beautiful Warwickshire panorama - Edge Hill possibly away
in the far distance on the right.
Maybe I’m bitter because I couldn’t find Edge Hill. But I do wish tourism could be less expensive in the UK and involve far less hours checking bus timetables. I’m not even sure that buying or renting a car would resolve the challenge of getting to know a place properly. My dream is for 1000+ years of history and the characters who lived there to be brought alive by locals explaining the ways that national obsessions (eg, the civil war, banning slavery, London gossip, workable wifi) have impacted on life.  I know the info just hangs on – Tysoe is a corruption of old English and probably refers to a figure of a horse cut into the hill, hence the current area’s name Vale of the Red Horse. It was there in 1607 but is now long lost.  Wikipedia was my learned friend, but where else I could find this info I’m not sure. Villages move with the time, but so much detail is lost that tourists/historynoughts might well enjoy.

To be fair you could say the same about where I live in London. The difference is that no one goes on holiday to Finsbury Park. At least I don’t think they do…

  • Broughton Castle, Oxon (near Banbury) is open Wednesday and Sunday afternoons Fantastic place, privately owned. We used a taxi from Banbury station (cost approx £10 one way).
  • Upton House and gardens, Warwickshire, run by the National Trust As I've got a NT card it's always fun visiting big houses. This one has many stand out features. Reach it be bus 6 or 7 from either Banbury or Stratford upon Avon. But you will have to walk about half a mile along the road from Radway. it was a nice walk! Or find a way across the fields from Castle Inn (we didn't try this but we should have done).
  • Buses 6 7 & from Banbury to Stratford-Upon-Avon are run by Stagecoach (but will be switching to Johnsons later 2018)
  • More about the village of Tysoe, Warwickshire.

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