HARD to believe now, but this place once had its ne’er-do-wells. Nowadays the Cotswolds is firmly the province of “do-wells”.
I can’t recall ever visiting a prettier or most prosperous seeming place. Every house is a picture-box exercise in perfect Englishness, the honey-coloured bricks often as not tumbling with roses.
Ten miles were walked yesterday, and another ten will be done today if all goes to pretty plan. The countryside is soft and wooded, and rolling too, as suggested by the ‘wolds’ at the back end of the name. The hills are plentiful but friendly for the most part. And you are more likely to meet someone reversing their shiny new Range Rover or BMW into your path than you are a good for nothing. Although if you venture to Chipping Norton, you might well bump into David Cameron.
And here’s the thing, the only political thing today, when all this chaos is over, David Cameron will have a nice and easy life. No money worries and the Cotswolds to roll around, when he’s not earning more money on the top peoples’ lecture circuit, expounding on his own marvelousness.
We are in Bourton-on-the-Water, in the north Cotswolds, a place almost comically scenic, lovely with its river and bridges. And thronging with tourists, too. The Chinese have arrived with their cameras.
Where we are staying there was a talk last night, and that’s how those good for nothings came into the picture. There was once a brotherly gang of thieves and robbers, the Dudsdon boys by name. This trio were highwaymen and common thieves too, willing to steal anything from anyone.
In the pub one night they planned to rob a grand house, where the front door had an opening through which a hand could reach to undo the bolt. The brothers were overheard in their plotting and a trap was set. When one of the brothers put his hand through, it was tied to the bolt. One of his siblings used a sword to cut off the lower arm and the three fled empty-handed in more ways than one. The injured brother is said to have bled to death in the woods nearby.
The remaining brothers continued their thieving and thuggish ways, until they were done for murder. The judge at their trial said they were “desperate fellows who had long been a terror to the country where they lived” (and should you wish to apply that to a different class of Cotswolds fellow who haunts us today, feel free).
The brothers were hanged from a gibbet in the woods, lovely woods almost certainly.
The reason for this tale is that round here they say it is the roots for a common saying. You might not know the brothers’ surname but you do know them, for they were called Tom, Dick and Harry. I Googled that and found it to be true, in the sense that a book of Cotswold history carried the story. Other theories on the roots of this saying are available, some going back to Shakespeare.
So think on that when you mumble and grumble about modern good for nothings. Any David, Boris or Nigel will do…