Cotswold Winds by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

Spring comes late on these windy uplands, and indoors one still sits close to the fire. These are the days of booming gales over the sheepwolds, and the afternoon ride with Shotover becomes an adventure. I am not one of those who shirk bicycling in a wind. Give me a two-mile spin with the gust astern, just to loosen the muscles and sweep the morning’s books and tobacco from the brain–and then turn and at it! It is like swimming against a great crystal river. Cap off, head up–no crouching over the handle-bars like the Saturday afternoon shopmen! Wind in your hair, the broad blue Cotswold slopes about you, every ounce of leg-drive straining on the pedals–three minutes of it intoxicates you. You crawl up-wind roaring the most glorious nonsense, ribaldry, and exultation into the face of the blast.

I am all for the Cotswolds in the last vacation before “Schools.” In mid-March our dear gray Mother Oxford sends us away for six weeks while she decks herself against the spring. Far and wide we scatter. The Prince to Germany–the dons to Devon–the reading parties to quiet country inns here and there. Some blithe spirits of my acquaintance are in those glorious dingy garrets of the Latin Quarter with Murger’s “Scenes de la Vie de Boheme” as a viaticum. Others are among the tulips in Holland. But this time I vote for the Cotswolds and solitude.

There is a straggling gray village which lies in the elbow of a green valley, with a clear trout-stream bubbling through it. There is a well-known inn by the bridge, the resort of many anglers. But I am not for inns nor for anglers this time. It is a serious business, these last two months before Schools, and I and my books are camped in a “pensive citadel” up on the hill, where the postman’s wife cares for me and worries because I do not eat more than two normal men. There is a low-ceilinged sitting room with a blazing fire. From one corner a winding stair climbs to the bedroom above. There are pipes and tobacco, pens and a pot of ink. There are books–all historical volumes, the only evidence of relaxation being Arthur Gibbs’ “A Cotswold Village” and one of Bartholomew’s survey maps. Ten hours’ work, seven hours’ sleep, three hours’ bicycling–that leaves four hours for eating and other emergencies. That is how we live on twenty-four hours a day, and turn a probable Fourth in the Schools into a possible Third.

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And what could better those lonely afternoon rides on Shotover? The valley of the Colne is one of the most entrancing bits in England, I think. A lonely road, winding up the green trough of the stream, now and then crossing the shoulder of the hills, takes you far away from most of the things one likes to leave behind. There are lambs, little black fuzzy fellows, on the uplands; there are scores of rabbits disappearing with a flirt of white hindquarters into their wayside burrows; in Chedworth Woods there are pheasants, gold and blue and scarlet, almost as tame as barnyard fowls; everywhere there are skylarks throbbing in the upper blue–and these are all your company. Now and then a great yellow farm-wagon and a few farmers in corduroys–but no one else. That is the kind of country to bicycle into. Up and up the valley, past the Roman villa, until you come to the smoking-place. No pipeful ever tasted better than this, stretched on the warm grass watching the green water dimpling over the stones. That same water passes the Houses of Parliament by and by. I think it would stay by Chedworth Woods if it could–and so would I.

But it is four o’clock, and tea will be waiting. Protesting Shotover is pushed up a swampy hillside through the trees–and we come out onto a hilltop some 800 feet above the sea. And from there it is eight miles homeward, mostly downhill, with a broad blue horizon to meet the eye. Back to the tiny cottage looking out onto the village green and the old village well; back to four cups of tea and hot buttered toast; and then for Metternich and the Vienna Congress. Solvitur bicyclando!

And when we clatter down the High again, two weeks hence, Oxford will have made her great transformation. We left her in winter, mud and sleet and stormy sunsets. But a fortnight from now, however cold, it will be what we hopefully call the Summer Term. There will be white flannels, and Freshmen learning to punt on the Cher. But that is not for us now. There are the Schools….

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Bibury, April, 1913.

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