Cider with Rosie Country, GloucestershireThough he was a poet of great lyrical skill, Laurie Lee will forever be remembered for his evocation of his childhood and its western Cotswold setting in his autobiographical Cider with Rosie.
Lee's Cotswolds world is not the chocolate box variety, but the living Gloucestershire countryside where people farm, and walk, and labour. He was born in Stroud , and grew up in the village of Slad just a few miles away, and to which he returned in later life, though he always kept a pied-a-terre in Chelsea .
His was a rather less genteel corner of The Heart of England than say Cirencester or Cheltenham . Stroud where he was born at 2 Glenview Terrace was a significant textile town in the Industrial Revolution , and it retains an air of bustle and purpose. Local conservationists have managed to fight off the worst excesses of the improvers and developers, so Stroud has a town centre with historic buildings of great character still, something that has attracted an artistic colony and will please the visitor too.
The future poet moved to Slad when he was three, his family (minus absentee father who sent remittances to them from his civil service job in London) occupying the upstroke of a T-shaped cottage in the village, though cottage is perhaps a poor description, given that it is of three stories, and a very sturdy solid structure that without its literary connections would be unlikely to feature on postcards. When his career finally flourished with the publication of Cider with Rosie Lee was able to buy Rose Cottage in the village, and eventually Littlecourt, the house in which he died in 1997.
Slad is a greystone village, the three vital organs of which sit in close proximity in what is otherwise a scattered settlement: the school Laurie Lee attended until he was 12; the Woolpack Inn where he was a regular; and Holy Trinity Church. Lee is buried in the lower churchyard there, on his gravestone the words "He lies in the valley he loved."
Slad Valley, narrow and sometimes steep, is one of the five so-called Golden Valleys running from Stroud, named thus for their economic importance in the boom years of textile production here. There is still a small textile industry in the area, with specialist felt making in Stroud - for billiard tables and similar high quality requirements; and in nearby Dursley there is even a survival of hand-weaving in the manufacture of bespoke industrial belting.
Along the bottom of Slad Valley runs Slad Brook, the rolling hills above it often shadowing the waters. This is a place of irregular green fields whose boundaries may have been fixed a thousand years ago, and woodlands where walkers will find shade when what Lee called 'a tropic heat' oppresses them. There are some stunning walks in and around the village, including a circular walk taking in Slad, Painswick and Swifts Hill Nature Reserve.
There is much more to see in the area than just the buildings with connections to Laurie Lee. Only a short distance south lie Rodborough and Minchinhampton Commons, maintained by the National Trust to protect the habitats of butterflies and wild flowers, and just to the north you can climb Haresfield Beacon, another beauty spot in National Trust hands, for some stunning views.
By way of contrast there is also Chedworth Roman Villa a little further afield at Yanworth, or rather nearer to Stroud the Little Fleece Bookshop in the lovely village of Painswick, yet another NT property, rolling together the architecture of an ancient inn, Arts and Crafts decoration, and an antiquarian bookshop of charm and distinction.
The area has benefited from an influx of artists and those seeking a change of pace in life, with quality organic food readily available, and a rhythm to life in some places that harks back to the interwar years when cars were rare and of course beer, and cider, were better. If you wish to travel even further back in time, The Long Stone near Avening is worth a small detour, an 8 foot tall standing stone with holes through which at one time babies were shoved to ward off rickets. A little south of this site is the equally fascinating Tinglestone Barrow and the Tinglestone itself, said to race across the field at midnight.
The Cotswolds have been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1966, a beauty that Laurie Lee conjured up magically in his writings. It is to be hoped that neither his words nor that natural beauty will ever be lost to us.
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