When a "Giffords Circus Press Launch at Sudeley Castle" email lands in your inbox you think of three things. Firstly - Giffords has started which means summer is on its way. Secondly - You are going to get far too excited that is acceptable for a grown adult and, thirdly - Can it really be as good as last year? The 2015 show Moon Songs was simply stunning and attracted nearly 100,000 people during the tour.
This year they have gone all Wild West on us with The Painted Wagon. If you think of a whip crackin', foot tapping, sometimes panic stricken extravaganza with the usual side splitting antics from the awe-inspiring Tweedy the Clown and genuine brilliance from the honky-tonk house band then you pretty much have the show in a nutshell - yet nutshells don't seem to be Giffords style. Each scene seduces you and the "aaahh's", gasps, laughs and "eeek's" are all very genuine.. One of the first things you see is a very well trained chicken doing a lap of the circus ring!!!
The show starts in a familiar, yet still very unpredictable, style by Tweedy as he introduces his two pets - a raccoon and the crowd favourite - an iron (yes you read that correctly) with the front row all on tenterhooks as you just know more than one person is going to picked out to aid him in some shape or form either in the ring or as a human coat-hanger in the crowd!
The scene is set with the ill-famed El Gifford fleeing Dodge City on horseback followed by the first look of the mightily impressive buffalo-drawn Painted Wagon as settlers start their journey to find a safe place to live.
Along the way we meet our favourite beer bottle jugglers Bibi and Bichu, the very funny god-botherers Lyrical Lyra, Dangerous Dan [Fortt], who dazzled the audience as he rode a white horse through a ring of fire, the lasso-spinning, gun-twirling newcomer Lillian Konyot, the marvelous Sarsaparilla Sal played by the quite sublime Nancy Trotter Landry and her handsome paramour Eddie who would have stolen the show if it wasn't for the quite incredible and gravity-defying Konjowoch Troupe who perform a heart in mouth balancing act that will leave you mesmerized.
The magic continues in the Circus Sauce restaurant, a 60-seater pop-up that follows the circus to each location. The kitchen is housed in two stunning showman's wagons and has four communal oak tables, perfect for discussing everything that has just wowed you in the circus tent. The delicious and ever changing hearty 3-course meal is created by head chef Oliver Halas using all local produce from the area to which the circus is located supporting local farms, smallholdings with the odd bit of hedge foraging.
This was the most fitting ending to truly scintillating evening. The Painted Wagon is the Giffords production best yet and is one not to be missed.
Check out our Giffords gallery HERE and visit www.giffordscircus.com to book tickets to both the show and the restaurant!
This week saw the first of the biannual Gypsy Horse Fairs that come to Stow on the Wold. The town, and surrounding area, went into complete shut down.
The Cotswold Journal released a statement with the heading "Police in alert after sharp rise in burglaries in the Cotswolds".. Is this just a coincidence or do they cause as much havoc as some of the locals suggest?
So are they really that bad? Personally I have never experienced any problems but sadly after looking at various social media posts and hearing what other locals say, I am in the minority. Local gamekeepers reportedly have to put up with many intruders driving onto their land and report it to the police but the registration plates given are not traceable. Both doors were stolen from a Landrover overnight near Chipping Campden on Wednesday. Some farmers "lock gates that they never have to lock apart from for 2 weeks in May and October", "Cotswold stone walls get knocked down to graze the horses" and worst of all, many pubs, restaurants and shops close. But do they have to close? Who knows - but the loss of earnings for the whole town could be a pretty handsome amount of money.
So where did it all begin? As with many Cotswold traditions you have to go back a very long time and this is no exception.. 1476 in fact! Cutting a long story very short - there was a petition for a charter for two fairs, one in May and the another in October. The charters were granted for May 12th, the feast of Saints Philip and James and the October 24th the feast of St. Edward the Confessor and these dates are still used today to decide the gypsy horse fair. (thank you to the Cotswolds Info website for educating me). With the main income coming from wool, this encouraged people to bring sheep to be sold. Move forward a few hundred years and the fair became a horse market for local farmers, huntsmen and travellers but after a split from the former 2, Stow Fair has become purely a Gypsy "Horse" Fair.. the inverted commas denote that lots of other tat is sold here as well as the odd horse.
We can't argue that the fair attracts lots of people (apparently "not half as many as there once was" as a more senior gentleman told me) and is a fascinating sight for many, but attracting that amount of people does absolutely nothing for the local community if everything closes.
In true Cotswolds style it is just tolerated and we know to lock our doors for 4 weeks of the year, put a lead on the dog during walks and keep a look out for any people looking for "hay", "fuel" or who have "accidentally taken the wrong road" and accept that, in true Hot Fuzz style, the police will actually do very little about it and probably breathe the same sigh of relief as many locals when it is all over and they have moved on.
So what do the gypsies do for us?
It's been a busy last few weeks with wedding preparations, the actual wedding and the tiredness after that we decided to take a few spring days away in the Lake District. As most people do before they head anywhere that they have never visited before is to use the modern day Lonely Planet - Facebook. After a simple "Heading to the Lake District tomorrow for a couple of days. Any recommendations - What to see and where to eat/drink?" status there were many responses but one that got mentioned at least five times was The Drunken Duck in Ambleside (the middle of nowhere). Surely five people can't all have had a lucky good meal? We decided to call and book. "Hello - Could we book a table for 3 (yes 3 as our friend from Australia join us for our mini-moon!) for tonight at around 8.30 please" They were full all evening on a Wednesday. This was a good and bad sign. Good because it was obviously popular and bad because we couldn't get in. "How about tomorrow evening?" I asked.. "Yes we can do 9pm". We were booked in.
We were staying on Windermere, which seems to be 20 minutes from everywhere in the Lake District. However, with the main road from Windermere to Keswick closed if you wanted to go and explore, you were forced to go the scenic route up some very narrow, and sometimes shit scary, passes. One of which was called "The Struggle" - a name very fitting for the steep climb. It was raining. Typical springtime in the UK. We eventually got to the otherside and explored some wonderful scenery around Buttermere and Derwent Water and after a few hours decided we should tootle back. The rain was still quite heavy and turned to sleet then snow as we climbed the Kirkstone Pass "Aaaaah it feels all Christmassy" said the good lady in the passenger seat. It's almost May! As we climbed higher the rainy sleety snow got thicker and the cars in front got slower and more petrified. "We could be in a bit of bother here" I muttered just loud enough to wake the Australian in the back who had fallen asleep when the surroundings were a lush green colour. It was now very white - Quite exciting for a man who has to "Go to the snow" in his own motherland. The snow got thicker and the cars in front bailed. It was getting thick but not thick enough to contemplate a night in the car on top of a big hill. As I as just about to creep by them a BMW stormed passed - probably a local who had to put up with this everyday of his life from October - April. The car fell silent as the sat-nav told me that we had 5 miles of this road and nobody spoke for about half an hour. We eventually made it to the bottom after becoming a pace setter for the only other queue survivor who had risked it. It was definitely more dicey going down than up!
8.30pm arrived and we set off to find the Drunken Duck. I actually think it is only a mile from where we were staying as the crow flies but yep you guessed it - 20 minutes in the car. We later realised that we could have taken the ferry but where's the fun in that.
On arrival we just full in love with the place. The large car park across the road was rammed so we parked easily on the roadside. The views at dusk looking back towards Windermere were still very impressive. On entry we were greeted by two friendly members of staff who automatically make you feel at home. The bar area was pretty cool and buzzing with decor right up our street with a hunting theme throughout. We got shown to our table which was situated under a large gold framed mirror in the dining room. This was a place where you could be the only couple (or trio in our case) in there and it would still have a lovely atmosphere. Drinks arrived with the menus and we all pondered what we were going to have - the issue being that we could have chosen at least 3 things each for both starter and main courses. Minds were eventually mad up and we opted for two duck leg parcels and the smoked salmon special to start and a rump and shoulder of lamb, cod with braised beef (a match made in heaven) and sea trout. I instantly had food envy as the starters arrived as I was the one who had ordered the salmon. It was delicious with a rye crisp and wasabi mayo but the duck parcels looked incredible.
Before the mains arrived it was time to order drinks to compliment the food. A bottle of Valpolicella red arrived to compliment the lamb, a glass of 2014 Chablis for the seas trout and.... a lemonade for me as the driver to compliment absolutely nothing but a clean driving license. On arrival the three dishes looked delightful yet not fine dining by any stretch which was a blessing to all concerned. The lamb was cooked perfectly accompanied by "the best ever" jersey royals, the see trout served with new potatoes, broccolini and pesto melted in the mouth and my cod, spiced beef brisket, charred leeks, mash was just awesome with each mouthful different but tasting equally as good. We all agreed at this point that this was up there with the best we had had.
As we were on a bit of a high we all decided that we had to sample a pudding. This also called for another drink selection from our antipodean friend as a glass of Lustau San Emilio Pedro Ximinez sherry was ordered to partner the cinder toffee doughnut while I opted for the treacle cake, pale ale and muscovado ice cream which for someone without a sweet tooth was an truly incredible.
The evening drew to a close but not before the staff excelled themselves again with the arrival of two espresso martinis that were not on the menu..
"Excuse me - do you do espresso martinis?"
"No.. but we can - I'll bring them over"
That was the perfect ending to what we all agreed to be possibly the best all-round meal that any of us had experienced and if it was 20 minutes away from us here in the Cotswolds, it would be very dangerous indeed!