the A361, locally known as the South Newington Road, we're through South Newington before you know it; it's little more than a rising twist in the road, with some houses clumped around it. A driver is too busy handling this tricky S-bend to take in more than that. A passenger might just have time to gain an impression of honeyed comfort in this village, ranged up a Cotswold foothill. If the passenger were an estate agent, he/she would probably be overcome with emotion. But the driver is shuffling his gears, to make up lost momentum for the climb on to the broad plateau of the Cotswolds.

On a broad saddle of land, now, dipping on either side into valleys open and scenic, or wooded and secret. To the right, to the West, the upper valley of the Swere draws the eye towards misty distances; to the East and to the left, who knows? The woods keep their secrets. Beneath, under this soil which still has the red tinge of Ironstone, is a whaleback of Oolitic Limestone - the Cotswold stone.

I've always liked that word - "oolitic", or "oolite". It conjures up the "oohs" and "aahs" of appreciative tourists encountering a villagefull of it for the first time. It also reminds me of an early insight into the values of academic study - as long as I knew how to pronounce "oolite", I was a Geologist - as long as there wasn't a real geologist in the room.

The word means "roe-stone", on the basis that the rock's regular granular structure resembles the eggs of a fish. "Oo" means "eggs" in some language or other. Not much of a surprise, that. In this case, the "eggs" are tiny grains of sand, rolled around the bed of an ancient tropical sea, accumulating successive layers of calcium. Many millions/billions/lots of these then consolidate into a rock - waiting for the bottom of the sea to rise up into the light, so that men can build cottages with it.

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