We recently had a little holiday on the Somerset coast but, with me navigating, we took a detour to the Cotswolds to visit a very special village – Slad, the setting of Laurie Lee’s wonderful book Cider with Rosie. It was tricky to find the village, but we knew we were getting close when we saw the sign at Bulls Cross – ‘that ragged wildness of wind-bent turves … a sort of island of nothing set high above the crowded valleys’ – the place Lee and his friends would frequent in the hopes of seeing a ghostly spectre.
Arriving at the village, we quickly spotted the school where the fabulously named Spadge Hopkins was taught alongside the young Laurie Lee. Lee describes him as ‘thick-legged, red-fisted, bursting with flesh, designed for the great outdoors … the sight of him squeezed into his tiny desk was worse than a bullock in ballet-shoes.’
We spotted the house Lee bought with the proceeds of the book, nice and handy for The Woolpack pub and with glorious views over his beloved valley, and how lucky we were to see it in all its summer glory with ‘all sights twice-brilliant and smells twice-sharp’.Being a writer who has stuffed many an envelope with a fat manuscript in her time, I couldn’t help wondering if Laurie Lee had ever posted any of his work in the letterbox near the pub and did he ever realise how many people would fall in love with his valley through his words?His grave in on a hill by the church and simply says, ‘He lies in the valley he loved.’Our journey then took us to Painswick which gets several mentions in Cider with Rosie. I wanted to visit the extraordinary churchyard which is famous for its ninety-nine yew trees and its beautiful table-top graves.
It was then on to our destination – Woodspring Priory on the Somerset coast, passing the pier at Weston super Mare – where Lee and his family and neighbours enjoyed a day out. He writes, ‘We saw a vast blue sky and an infinity of mud … rousing smells of an invisible ocean astonished our land-locked nostrils: salt, and wet weeds, and fishy oozes; a sharp difference in every breath … we had never seen such openness, the blue windy world seemed to have blown quite flat, bringing the sky to the level of our eyebrows.’
I love visiting the places which my favourite writers have written about so this was a very special journey for me and one I hope to repeat again.