Saturday, September 16, 2006

Coombe Country Park, Brinklow, Thirteen Roundabouts, and a Coventry Diversion
Driving: about 24 miles, round trip
Walking: about 6 miles

On a cool, silvery-gray morning, we piled into our Rover 660 and hit the road for Coombe Country Park, a few miles east of Coventry. This was our first real outing in our car, and with Clara at the wheel we arrived quickly and easily at our destination—despite having to negotiate six roundabouts, including two major junctions on the A46. We arrived at Coombe Country Park to find the “autumn nationals” of the American Auto Club UK in full swing—a loudspeaker blaring Elvis Presley, American flags (and a few Confederate) waving in the misty English breeze, and people wandering around admiring enormous Dodge trucks as wide as an entire English street.

Coombe Country Park is the location of Coombe Abbey, a large stately home built on the site of a twelfth-century Cistercian Abbey. In 1603, King James I sent his eldest daughter, nine-year old Princess Elizabeth, to be educated at Coombe, which was then the home of Sir John Harington. The Gunpowder Plot two years later involved a plan to kidnap Princess Elizabeth from Coombe Abbey and install her has a puppet monarch who would restore England to Catholicism. (Elizabeth was, in fact, a devout Protestant.) But perhaps the most impressive thing about Coombe is its grounds—nearly 400 acres of gardens and parkland landscaped in 1771 by Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Unfortunately, the rest of our walk was much less scenic than the grounds of Coombe Country Park. Once we left the park, the first part of the walk took us behind the large Rolls Royce plant (Coventry is the Detroit of England), and the last part of the walk took us along the edge of a quarry—a long, deep pit full of reddish-brown mud. The one highlight along the way was in the little village of Brinklow, where we climbed the green mound (or “tump”) of a Norman motte and bailey castle. In this photograph, you might be able to see that the mound (with Will and Peter on top for scale) is surrounded by a deep ditch, which served as a moat. The earth removed during the digging of the ditch was piled up in the center, and a wooden keep was built on top. Several of these motte and bailey castles in the area were built during the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154), a dangerous period known as the Anarchy.

We stopped in Brinklow for pints and lemonades at the dark and smoke-filled pub, The Raven. All conversation in the pub stopped when we entered, and it took several minutes for the regulars to get over our unexpected arrival. I had an awful pint of Marston’s Pedigree.* (I think the best ale I’ve had since our arrival has been Wells Bombardier.) After choking down the Pedigree, we made a quick escape and picked up some fish and chips at the Brinklow Fish Bar down the road. The fish (haddock) was much better than the beer.

I have to admit that the thing I got most excited about on the walk was this field. If you look carefully at the ground on which the sheep are standing, you may notice that it is corrugated. We crossed two large pastures in which the ground rose and fell in these earthen ripples underfoot, and I was excited to realize that I was walking over the ridges and furrows characteristic of Anglo-Saxon farming in the central part of England, including Warwickshire and the Cotswolds. It was fascinating to walk across an Anglo-Saxon field and then climb the mound of a Norman motte and bailey castle. Again I found it remarkable how much history is written into the landscape of England.

Our drive home from Coombe was somewhat eventful—we got confused on a series of roundabouts, and ended up heading for the Coventry city centre. We stopped at a BP station for directions, we ran into road construction and a diversion (detour) at a crucial point in the journey, and I came close to having a panic attack once or twice, but we finally managed to come out on the somewhat more familiar Kenilworth Road. Next weekend we may be ready to venture even further afield...

*Note: Marston's Pedigree is an anagram for "Message: order pint!"

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