Wednesday 27 July 2011

Arlott country

We had the extreme good fortune to spend last weekend in Hampshire. Now although Sussex is our home...Hampshire runs a close second and my wife's family spent two idyllic years in the charming village of Cheriton back in the 1950s. We stayed in nearby Alresford (pronounced Awlsford) once home to John Arlott and possessed of one of the most lovely streets in all of England. Of course the town is famous for its watercress and even today it's a large industry. Our accommodation was the Bell Inn on the High Street, run by young, enthusiastic Frenchmen, serving good food and wine with a smile and witty repartee. A short walk took us to the railway station and the preserved Watercress Line which runs to Alton...the day we visited there was some sort of wartime re-enactment going on, peopled by elderly, time-served policemen (2), vicars (several of these), agricultural labourers (one), spivs (2), ARP Wardens (2) and ladies of indistinct casting although very much of the nylons and fox fur persuasion (many). After foregathering, this unlikely ensemble all boarded the train together - as if! in the day! But all good fun, and I particularly liked the camouflaged Austin 7 box van with which to defeat the might of the Third Reich's Panzer divisions.

Sunday found us driving, just for the sheer pleasure of it, through the quiet narrow winding lanes that are such a feature of this area. A look in at Hinton Ampner House and gardens gave us the sight of the unusual church tower in the grounds. The views to the South are fabulous, stretching, unspoilt for miles. A pint at The Tichborne Arms was a delight. The locals are still entitled to The Tichborne Dole, a charitable donation to the villagers of Tichborne and Cheriton of a gallon of flour for adults and half a gallon for children. Originally instituted in around 1150 by the ailing Lady Tichborne, her mean and spiteful husband didn't share her generous plan and came up with the novel scheme of agreeing to it on the basis that produce would be made available from land around which she could crawl whilst holding a burning torch. The plucky lady managed to gird twenty three acres until the flame died - an area still known as 'The Crawls'. Like all good stories there is, rightfully, a mathematical/child bearing curse attached to it which runs thus: If the family decided to stop providing the dole, then it would first have seven sons followed by seven daughters and then...zilch! the family name would vanish forever. Well blow me down, it was banned because it had become too rowdy a ceremony - the then baronet was (you're there before me) the seventh son and he had seven daughters. In order for the curse not to take effect the dole was restarted and from then onwards the details of the family inheritance became confused, tragic and convoluted...culminating in the famous Tichborne inheritance of the most celebrated in English legal history involving a false claimant to the family title.

The countryside and cool chalk streams of the Itchen valley are magical at this time of year. Taking the time to stop, look, and listen, has been a most theraputic experience. Try it.