We were woken by that most summery of sounds, the purring of woodpigeons, exhorting us to “Take two cows taffy.” If you are unfamiliar with this, it is said that the call of the woodpigeon sounds like that phrase. If you are unfamiliar with it, try the birdsong link in the sidebar-there is a good recording at this BBC website.
It being a perfect day, we set off for a walk, driving for about 40 minutes into the Gloucestershire hills to Woodchester manor, a glorious ,unfinished Victorian Gothic house nestling in a lovely valley. We have never visited before and it turned out to be a fascinating experience.
The house was begun in 1850’s and left unfinished in the late 1860’s, and was never really occupied. It stands today as it was left by the Victorian builders ( although there is modern scaffolding where some maintenance work is being undertaken) and is a fascinating insight into the architectural construction of a country house.
Unusually for us, we waited for the guided tour, which proved to be very informative and featured some local dialect. The chimneys were referred to as “chimleys” and there was mention of “skellingtons”. The guide was keen to point out that she had never seen a ghost at the house but “fright nights” were held there, with people having the chance to pay for the privilege of scaring themselves to death in this fabulous building.
The architectural detailing was exquisite. I love gargoyles and these two are very fine. Had I known my camera would cope with the distance, I would have taken more.
There are many windows missing, allowing both the elements and the birds free access. I was in one of the larders when a swallow swooped in and brought food to her very noisy nestlings, who were in a scaffold pole hole high up an the wall. I noticed a half eggshell on the windowsill in this larder -one belonging to the swallows. I have never seen one before. It was small, white and speckled lightly with rusty red. I put the guide in the picture for scale.
For a naturalist, Woodchester is famous for its colonies of rare bats, especially Greater and Lesser Horseshoe bats. We have bats here at home that circle the front garden at twilight, but I think they are the common pipistrelle bats. At Woodchester there is a bat webcam and we spent time watching the bats in their roost. Although it was night for them, there was a surprising amount of activity. Several were flying about and many were grooming themselves. All of the bats in the roost at present are females who are due to give birth at the end of June. I shall be keeping an eye on this, as I find bats fascinating.
Well, is it haunted? I’m remarkably unmoved by all such things so perhaps I shouldn’t judge. I do know it was full of wildlife who roam freely in and around it. Do they count?