Sheepscombe, a sleepy village in Gloucestershire, lying in a narrow hypnotic valley behind the Cotswold scarp.
It nestles amidst green hills, with clumps of trees, and quaint elevation.
It is a short walk up the hill from the Village Hall car park to the quintessential Butchers Arms Pub. The pub is excellent and plays a major role in the cricket of the area. Lunch is almost always taken there. Post-lunch sessions are delayed, deferred, sometimes canceled based on the quality of food and ale. For some reason, the cricket meetings don’t take place here any longer (supposedly after the great chip scandal of 1999).
The cricket ground is a further steep walk up from the pub, set on the top of the hill. It is the home of the Sheepscombe Cricket Club.
It is still called the Laurie Lee Fields. Local author Laurie Lee, the one who penned Cider with Rosie, purchased the ground in 1971. Down the years, after the death of Lee, the club raised £25,000 and used a further grant of £25,000 from ECB to secure the future of the ground.
The future is important. Because cricket at Sheepscombe is part of the heritage of the area.
The ground is oddly shaped, with a curious slope. If the batsman takes strike at the pavilion end, and the bowler runs in from the valley, the long off and long on fielders are blind-sighted. They cannot see the batsman as they field in the depression towards the edge of the boundary, nuzzling with the grazing cows just beyond the field. Balls travelling in their direction have to be called out.
Yet, it remains one of the most beautiful grounds of the world. As one looks on from the pavilion, the valley with its clumps of green trees stretches ahead. The cricket on view may not always be of the best quality, but the scenes are the prettiest. Be it in clouds or sunshine, the view is dazzling.
Cricket was first played here in 1896. The first recorded matches were contested in the first decade of the 20th century. The first team photographs were taken in 1908. The first pavilion was erected in 1922. That was towards the east of the pitch.
The ground has survived two Wars, monetary problems, and other hardships. It has grown and been developed.
The pavilion that stands today was erected in 1994 and has all the modern facilities of showers, toilets, and a proper kitchen counter.
The sense of history that pervades through is fascinating. The pavilion walls are covered with pictures and reports of the development of the ground. A table is stacked with books about English cricket in which the ground does feature. There are also several volumes penned by the Gloucestershire cricket writer Nico Craven, a frequent visitor to the ground.
Passionate historians of the ground, Elisabeth Skinner, Geoff Stephenson, Tony Joy, David Hopkins and Thea Carrington even produced a book titled The History of Sheepscombe Cricket Club.
There are also mementos reminding us of the influence of Laurie Lee.
It was Lee who wrote in Cider with Rosie about Sid Light playing in South Africa, “The hell-bent technique of his village game worked havoc among the officers. On a flat pitch at last, with a scorched dry wicket, after the hillocks and cow dung of home, he was projected straightway into regions of greatness and broke records and nerves galore.”
Cricket in the region is important enough to feature in literature. And it is not limited to Lee.
Frank Mansell, a Sheepscombe legend, played for the club over three decades. A postman and poet, he bowled, according to Frank Keating, mesmeric seam. Mansell features in the writings of Lee, Keating and Craven. He also penned Cotswold Ballads, his own book of poems. When the Birdlip side played Sheepscombe, with many members of the talented Partridge family, Mansell paid homage to them in a poem titled The Partridges of Birdlip. In 1961 he took 10 for 8 in an innings. Seven year earlier, the Mansell Trophy had already been established, for the best bowler of the season.
Of course, as one looks at the ground, it is not difficult to ascertain why so much written word has been invested on it.
Far from the madding crowd, set on a hilltop amidst the wondrous Cotswold, it is one of the amazing cricketing sights in the world.