Monday, 22 April 2013

A CIDER-SOAKED IDYLL: LAURIE LEE'S SLAD



Gazing at the bucolic countryside surrounding the village of Slad, roughly midway between Bath and Cheltenham, it is hard to imagine how Laurie Lee could have torn himself away when he "walked out one midsummer morning" to embark on his epic walk through Spain.  In fact, although he was very attached to the village of  his birth, he did feel its limitations, and as well as his foreign escapades, in later life he made regular trips up to London, while maintaining a home and family in Slad.  That said, he found plenty of material from his early life in the village for his best-known work Cider With Rosie, an account of his Gloucestershire childhood with all its ups and downs, from jolly japes at the local school to the loss of a sibling, who died "suddenly, silently, without complaint", not to mention his friendship with the Rosie of the title, who was complicit in Laurie's initiation into cider.  Cider With Rosie was followed by two more memoirs: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, covering the walk through Spain, and A Moment Of War, about his return to Spain to fight for the Republican cause.

The former village school

Cider With Rosie is full of delightfully graphic descriptions of Slad and the surrounding countryside.  Right in the first chapter he manages to convey not only the sights, but also the sounds and smells of the land outside the family home, Rosebank.  Lee has just arrived at the cottage for the first time at three years old, and he describes the sight of the grass which "towered above me and all around me, each blade tattooed with tiger-skins of sunlight"; the sound of "grasshoppers that chirped and chattered and leapt through the air like monkeys"; and the smell of "the ground, rank with sharp odours of roots and nettles".  The village itself is "a scattering of some twenty or thirty houses", while the roofs of the houses in the sunshine would sparkle "like crystallized honey".   

Rosebank, the house where Lee spent his childhood


Slad Valley is an idyllic green fold of countryside set among the rolling hills of the southern Cotswolds.  The village has just one pub, the Woolpack, which is just across the road from where Laurie Lee and his wife Kathy used to live.  Lee was a regular visitor to the pub, which gets a mention in Cider With Rosie, and which makes the most of its associations with the writer with pictures on the wall and even a beer produced by the local Uley Brewery named after him.  The village church, where Lee used to sing in the choir, is also by the roadside.  The school he attended is also still there, although it is no longer a school, having been converted to a house.  The village is ranged over one side of the valley, and in the lower part is a small lake next to which is Rosebank, which Lee family rented for princely sum of three and sixpence a week.  The Slad Valley has repeatedly been threatened with housing development.  Laurie Lee helped to fend off one such development during his lifetime, but more recently there has been another attempt to develop the area.  Happily for this beautiful corner of the Cotswolds it was reported just the other day that the plan for a housing estate in the valley is likely to be rejected.

Holy Trinity church

The Woolpack

A short distance from Slad is the town of Stroud, where Laurie Lee started attending the Central School when he reached twelve, and where he later worked as an office boy for a firm of chartered accountants.  Stroud is a hilly market town with a range of independent shops; it prides itself on its commitment to all things organic, and was in at the start of the Organic food movement.  It also has a thriving artistic community; Jasper Conran once referred to the town as the Covent Garden of the Cotswolds.  During the industrial revolution the town's economy centred on textiles, and at one point there were 150 mills in the surrounding valleys.  Many of the former mills, although no longer serving their original purpose, have been taken over by small businesses.  Further information about Stroud and the surrounding area can be found on the Cotswolds tourism website.

Laurie Lee's gravestone.  The inscription reads "He lies in the valley he loved".  He died in 1997.

Map of the area.





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