England 2015 – A Few Anecdotes

I love to travel.  I love seeing new places, meeting new people, doing new things, eating new foods… it’s one of my favorite things to do.  I also love coming home.  By the last day of vacation, I am usually ready to be home.  This trip was no exception.  As much as I love to travel, looking out the window of the plane and seeing Cape Ann on our approach into Boston Friday night, I was reminded again that this part of the world is home.  There is a flowering magnolia tree in front of my apartment building, and I returned home to see it in full bloom.

One of the things I love most about traveling is the people you meet along the way.  Maybe it’s because I frequently travel by myself, but I always enjoy meeting fellow travelers and locals and striking up conversations.  A few conversations from this trip stand out in my mind.  The first was last Friday night while I was waiting for my flight at Logan airport.  I had a talk with a woman who was heading home to Scotland after a few days each in New York City and Boston.  She was on the flight after mine, and she told me all about her travels in both cities.  She said she loved New York, but she couldn’t wait to return to Boston.  She said the best word she could think of to describe our city is “classy”.

The White Swan Pub, London
The White Swan Pub, London

The second conversation took place on Saturday night at the White Swan pub in London.  The older couple who sat down next to me struck up conversation and we chatted throughout the meal.  They were from D.C. and staying at the same hotel as me down the road.  I left to order dessert, and when I returned they had begun talking to the gentleman on the other side of them.  Soon we were all talking about our travels and experiences.  He was from Italy, but had been living in London and working as a barber for about 15 years.  He said when he was first offered the job, he was told he had a year to learn English.  He did and you would barely know English wasn’t his first language.  The couple was heading to Cardiff for a business meeting and decided to spend a couple of days in London before heading on.

The last conversation that stands out in my mind was with a couple from Newbury, England who I met on my walk back to Chipping Campden from Broad Campden on Thursday.  When we first met on the path, the gentleman said, “That doesn’t sound much like a Chipping Campden accent!”  Obviously it’s not, and we starting talking about the U.S. and traveling.  They have a house in Orlando and knew all about the winter we had in Boston.  There was nothing that stands out about this couple specifically, it was just a warm conversation and they seemed like the type of people who represent the friendliness of the British.

The people you meet along the way...
The people you meet along the way…

One other anecdote from my trip… Every morning at breakfast, I saw these two older gentlemen from northwest London.  The first morning I saw them, I smiled and said hello and they nodded back.  The second morning, they were telling the waitress that they were going to Sudeley Castle that day.  I piped up that I was going there too, and they smiled and nodded without saying much.  Then I saw them at the castle, and one of them said, “Oh, I recognize you.”  It wasn’t until the third morning that we managed to strike up conversation.  As I was leaving the restaurant, one of the gentleman asked how I had enjoyed the castle.  We chatted about the beauty and history of the castle, and then began talking about our trips.  They asked about my “holiday” and told me about theirs.  They are both retired and enjoy traveling.  By the final morning (they checked out the day before me), they called me over as I was leaving for the day and wanted to know all about my plans for the day and where I was from.  It felt like some small victory, that I had won them over.  From the first day nodding and smiling at each other to the last couple of days sharing conversation.  I saw them briefly in the parking lot as they were loading up their car and we wished each other safe travels.

None of these conversations were particularly noteworthy on their own, but they represent many of the small things I remember from my trips.  I don’t typically bring home a lot of souvenirs from my vacations, but these small moments are the ones that I remember long after the traveling is over.

shrine-clipart-400x400_1311074697495-07b4ffb8fbb51222c5552df0ad1ae20fm

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”   -Pat Conroy

England 2015 – Day 7: Homeward Bound

This morning, I was torn between wanting to lie in bed a while longer and wanting to go out to take some early morning pictures on my last day of vacation.  Knowing I could catch up on sleep when I got home, I was out the door a little after 6 AM.  If you’re not an early morning riser, become one!  Even if it’s only once in a while.  One of the things I love to do at home when it’s above freezing is get up early on a weekend morning and head to the beach for sunrise.  There’s something entirely different about being out before most of the world wakes up.  This morning I had the same feeling I get on those mornings at the beach.  My first stop today was Ebrington.  I wandered around the village for a few minutes taking pictures and then headed off to the field with the sheep near the church in Chipping Campden.  I planned to just stop for a few pictures, but ended up leaving my car and going for another walk on one of the walking paths.  This one crossed the sheep pasture and met up with the second part of the path I was on yesterday behind the church fields.  There was dew on the grass and a low fog over some of the field, and it was just a perfect morning to be out enjoying it.  I passed only two other walkers on my way.

Morning walk through the fields of Chipping Campden
Morning walk through the fields of Chipping Campden

After my walk, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the day, eat breakfast, and pack.  Once I had my things in the car, I set off for one last walk around Chipping Campden and then headed to the airport.  Since my route took me through Moreton-in-Marsh again, how could I resist stopping at the little candy shop I visited on my first day?  The owner recognized me and even threw in some extra chocolate for my trip home!  Then it was back on the motorway to Heathrow for my flight back to Boston.  Fortunately, the damage to the rental car was easily dealt with and the guys checking in my car got quite a laugh over what they decided was probably an owl lodged in the front of the car.  I had to pay for the damages, but will (hopefully!) be reimbursed by my credit card rental insurance.

Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden

This was probably one of the best vacations I have taken.  I didn’t do a lot of planning ahead of time, and just decided to figure out each morning what I would do that day.  The people were very friendly and driving on the opposite side of the road definitely put me out of my comfort zone, at least at first.  And the experience of visiting the Cotswolds was exactly what I had hoped it would be.  I have a hard time comparing my vacations because how can you compare something like the Grand Canyon or the Grand Tetons to the villages in the English countryside?  They are so completely different that I can’t rank any one as better than the others, just all great travel experiences.  I will post more this weekend about some of the highlights that I haven’t mentioned, but my bed is calling to me tonight!

England 2015 – Day 6: A Walk and A Garden Visit

I woke up this morning with absolutely no plans for the day.  Sure, there were a few things I was considering, but I didn’t really have any idea where I would end up.  I had wanted to spend a day exploring Wales (the Chepstow and Tintern areas), but decided I didn’t feel like driving 1.5 hours each way.  The morning was grey and cloudy, so I took my time getting ready and headed over to breakfast around 9:00.  The nice thing about staying in this old manor hotel is that breakfast is included every morning.  Not just a few bagels and toast, but a full, cooked, English style breakfast.  The bad thing about staying in this old manor hotel is that breakfast is included every morning.  To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of the choices.  There are delicious croissants, cereal, fruit, yogurt, etc. on the continental table, but I’m a pretty picky eater and the hot food choices that I will actually eat are pretty limited.  As in eggs or eggs.  I had eggs Benedict the first morning I was here, and will probably have it again tomorrow.  I had just a cold breakfast on the second morning, scrambled eggs yesterday, and cold again today.  On Tuesday when I said I didn’t want anything hot, I overheard the server saying to another waitress, “She doesn’t want a cooked breakfast!”, as though it were scandalous!

The pathway to Broad Campden
The pathway to Broad Campden

After breakfast, my first order of business was to fill up the gas tank.  Hurdle #1: Find a gas station.  I asked at the front desk of the hotel and was directed to a close station (there aren’t many around) which I was told “isn’t the cheapest”.  Hurdle #2: Figure out how to open the gas tank cover.  Turns out, you press it in and it pops out.  Hurdle #3: How to pay.  At the place I stopped you pump first, then pay.  I guess I’ll find out tomorrow whether that seems to be the standard or if it varies.  I pumped a pricey £40 into the gas tank (about US$60) and then headed off to explore some more.  I ended up back in Chipping Campden and decided since it was cloudy but not rainy I would go for a walk.  I had researched a 3-mile or so walk from Chipping Campden to Broad Campden (the next village over) online and figured I would give it a shot.  I knew where the route started, so I set off through the archway at the Noel Arms hotel.

The route was fairly well traveled so it wasn’t hard to find the path.  Most of the walking paths go through pastures and farmland.  This one took me through a field that was in the midst of being plowed and over a ridge into a side street in Broad Campden.  Broad Campden is a tiny village with a small church and Quaker meeting house.  I found a wooden bench on a small knoll overlooking the village and sat for about 20 minutes just enjoying the quiet and birds chirping around me.  I think 3 or 4 cars drove by in the entire time I was there.  Finding the path back to Chipping Campden was a bit more difficult.  I knew the route was a loop, so I headed in the direction I thought would take me to the return piece of the loop.  I ended up in a sheep pasture and couldn’t figure out how to get through to where I wanted to be.  I retraced my steps back to the village and saw a small stone sign marked “public foot path” next to a house and figured that might be it.  The return route took me through someone’s yard and into a pasture that looped around to the fields behind/next to the church in Chipping Campden.  The whole journey took about 2 hours and I was ready for tea!

Broad Campden
Broad Campden

Today’s tea was at Badger’s Hall Tea Room in Chipping Campden.  After enjoying my scone with jam and clotted cream, the sun was finally beginning to come out.  I decided to go to Hidcote Manor Gardens, nearby in Hidcote Bantrim.  The car park was full when I arrived, but I found a spot and headed in to explore.  Other than Sudeley Castle, this is the only place I’ve paid admission in the past week.  The gardens were created by American

Hidcote Manor Gardens
Hidcote Manor Gardens

Lawrence Johnston in the early 1900s.  The gardens are broken into many “rooms”, each with a different feel and type of plant, flower, or shrub.  I spent about an hour wandering around and taking pictures in the gardens.  After that, it was back to the hotel for a little bit before heading out for dinner at the Churchill Arms pub in nearby Paxford.  The Churchill recently changed ownership and the new owner/chef is getting a lot of much deserved recognition.  It was easily the best meal of my trip.  I had a pork t-bone with crackling, sage, a poached apple, and mashed potatoes.  Of course, another cider made a good accompaniment.  For dessert, I was “talked into” trying the chocolate fondant, basically a molten chocolate cake with the best ice cream I’ve tasted.  A great final meal for vacation!

England 2015 – Day 5: Village Hopping

The highlight for today was clearly hitting a bird and then realizing that not only did I hit it, the dead bird somehow managed to lodge itself behind the grille on the front of the car.  So now I’m driving around with bird feathers sticking out of the front of the car.  Fortunately, it is in the lower front by the fog lights, so I don’t think it is doing any damage.  Don’t ask me how it got there either.  It must have gotten flung up through the wheel well when I hit it.  I figure the worst that can happen is the rental car company will charge me to remove it.  Goodness knows this isn’t nearly as bad as the time I had to exchange a rental car because I rear ended someone and the whole front end was destroyed.  But that’s a whole different story…

St. Barnabas Church, Snowshill
St. Barnabas Church, Snowshill

Back to today’s (less dramatic) highlights.  I returned to Snowshill to try to get my picture of the church with the red phone booth.  The lighting was better than yesterday, but still not great.  Then it was on to Bourton-on-the-Water.  I wanted to love this village.  Maybe if I had been there before seeing many of the others, or if it was my only taste of the Cotswolds, I would have felt differently.  But it lacked all of the charm of the smaller villages and felt very commercialized.  Bourton-on-the-Water is called the “Venice of the Cotswolds” because the River Windrush runs right through the middle of the village and is crossed by a series of stone bridges.  It made for a pleasant, albeit short, morning walk, and then I was off to other places.

Arlington Row, Bibury
Arlington Row, Bibury

I debated whether I wanted to go to Bibury (about a half hour away) to photograph its famous Arlington Row.  I’m glad I made the choice to go there.  While the controversial yellow car is still parked in front of one of the cottages (see this article to read about it!), the scene was just as I’ve seen in so many other people’s pictures.  The clear blue sky and beautiful stream running by made a perfect morning stop.  At this point, my stomach was starting to growl a bit and I knew afternoon tea was on the agenda.  I drove through the villages of Turkdean, Notgrove, and Naunton on my way to Stow-on-the-Wold.  I had stopped here on Sunday, but most of the shops were closed then.  Today, everything was open and the town was hopping with tourists.  I quickly found the Old Bakery Tearoom and enjoyed another delicious cream tea.  Afternoon tea has to be just about the greatest British tradition.

Lower Slaughter
Lower Slaughter

After a short walk around Stow, I headed for Lower Slaughter.  The Slaughters are actually named for the old English word “slohtre” which means “muddy place”.  Upper and Lower Slaughter are only about a mile apart, and connected by both a road and footpaths, so I decided it was a good time for a walk.  I parked my car in Lower Slaughter and stopped by a small art show before finding the path to Upper Slaughter.  The well-worn path between the two villages follows the River Eye and crosses several pastures before ending in Upper Slaughter.  At this point, it was starting to get a bit cloudy, so I made a quick loop around the village before heading back to my car.  A drive through Upper and Lower Swell rounded out my day of village-hopping.   It was then off to the Lygon Arms in Chipping Campden for dinner where I had two more ciders (neither one noteworthy), a toasted ham and cheese and (finally!) sticky toffee pudding.

England 2015 – Day 4: Castles and Villages

I’ll admit it.  I was a bit nervous that I had built the Cotswolds up so much in my mind before this trip that the actual experience may not live up to my expectations.  It has been exactly the opposite.  Every time I turn a corner into another village, I think, “This is exactly what I pictured in my mind.”  Now I understand why the British use words like “lovely” and “charming”.  They are the only words that can begin to do justice to places like this.

Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle

Today started off with a visit to Sudeley Castle.  Before I say anything more, you should probably know that I am not a history person.  At all.  Names, dates, places… none of that interests me.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained more of an appreciation for American history, and I’ve done some research into my ancestry, but that’s about the extent of my interest in history.  So learning about the history of an old castle in England was not high on my list of interests.  That being said, I figured I should at least visit one castle and learn a little about the area I’m staying in.  To be honest, I went mostly to take some pictures and figured a little history lesson wouldn’t hurt.  The castle is beautiful; not built up and over-visited like Windsor or Warwick.  It is located a mile or two outside of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire.  Approaching the castle visitor’s center, you would not imagine the beautiful castle on the other side of the entry.  The self-guided tour starts at the remains of an old tithe barn.  Built in the 15th century, the tithe barn was used to store agricultural goods and produce the local parishioners would give to the church.

Continuing the tour, you approach the main castle through a side garden.  The castle is still in use today as a family home, so only portions of it are open for touring.  Many of the rooms contain historical artifacts from various periods in the castle’s history.  Remember my disinterest in history?  I was able to move through the historical rooms pretty quickly.  A couple of the bedrooms that are open for visiting are still in use today as guest bedrooms.  After finishing the interior of the castle, I decided to take a guided tour to the church.  Located just next to the castle, the church is still used today for monthly services and special events.  It is also the place where Queen Katherine Parr is entombed, the only English Queen to be buried on private land.  The tour provided some interesting information, but I was anxious to take some photos in the garden and head for my next stop: lunch.

View from The Mount Inn, Stanton
View from The Mount Inn, Stanton

Lunch today was at the Mount Inn in Stanton.  I had read reviews online and several people have recommended it since I’ve been here.  How could I skip it?  The Mount is located in the tiny village of Stanton, at the top of a hill overlooking the village.  There is outdoor seating on the terrace, where I was able to snag the last table.  I opted to try a burger and fries (chips).  The burger was flavorful, but a different texture than what we are used to at home.  And it had some herbs and onions mixed into the burger.  I wasn’t asked how I wanted it cooked, and it came out sort of a medium/pink color.  Good, but different than I was expecting.  Every place here has malt vinegar on the table, so I’ve made good use of it on all of my chips this week.  On a side note, this was the fourth English cider I’ve tried this week.  I love cider at home, but Angry Orchard and Woodchuck don’t hold a candle to local English ciders.  Yum!

The village of Stanton
The village of Stanton

After lunch, I spent about an hour walking around the village of Stanton.  So far, my top three villages have been Blockley, Ebrington, and Stanton (not necessarily in that order).  They are all small, picturesque, and mostly devoid of tourists.  Perfect for exploring.  Like the others, Stanton has plenty of honey colored cottages and thatched roof homes.  My guidebook describes Stanton as an “almost too perfect village”.  It is easy to see why.  Stanway and Snowshill completed my afternoon tour.  Snowshill is actually one of the locations used to film “Bridget Jones’ Diary”.  There is a picture waiting to be taken of a bench and red phone booth in front of the wool church.  Unfortunately, the lighting was coming from the wrong direction, so I’m planning to pass through again tomorrow morning in the hopes the sun will cooperate.

St. Barnabas Church, Snowshill
St. Barnabas Church, Snowshill

I skipped dinner tonight in favor of an evening walk instead.  I headed up to Dover’s Hill, which is another large sheep pasture with walking trails overlooking the farms and villages nearby.  It was a picture perfect way to end the day!

England 2015 – Day 3: This is the Cotswolds

It would be impossible to explain in words how beautiful this area is.  It is quintessential English countryside at its very best.  About three miles down the road from Charingworth Manor is the village of Chipping Campden.  I decided to begin my first full day of exploring by visiting the village.  The Cotswolds are covered with public walking paths (literally over 100 miles of them), many passing through villages and across farmland.  These are usually accessed by small gates along the side of the road marked by a sign indicating “public footpath”.  My first stop on the way into town was a small footpath into a field of sheep at the side of the road.  The field overlooks the old woolen church in Chipping Campden (St. James’), one of many built by wool merchants to “show off” their wealth.  You can just wander through the field among the sheep (and plenty of cute baby lambs).  After my stop at the field, I parked by the church and wandered around the town for a while.  In the center of town, the market hall dates back to 1627, where it was originally used by produce merchants.  One of the best parts of the day was the walk I took on one of the footpaths though some of the fields surrounding the village.

Chipping Campden Walking Path
Chipping Campden Walking Path

From Chipping Campden, I headed to Broadway, about 5 miles away.  The highlight of Broadway is Broadway Tower, built in the late 1700s overlooking the village of Broadway.  The staircase winds to the top, where you can take in the views of 16 counties as far as the Welsh border.  In case you’re wondering, the café by the tower serves a pretty good hot chocolate, perfect for washing down a lunchtime ice cream cone.

Leaving Broadway, I took a “long cut” back to the hotel through Broad Campden and Mickelton.  The receptionist at the hotel was able to give me some walking maps of the area when I checked in yesterday.  The village of Ebrington is a short 1 ¼ mile walk from the hotel down a narrow country road.

The village of Ebrington
The village of Ebrington

Described by my guidebook as “achingly beautiful”, I can’t think of any words more appropriate for Ebrington.  The main road is narrow and surrounded by thatched roof cottages.  In the center of the village is the small St. Eadburgha’s church, another of the Cotswold wool churches.  And just up the street is the Ebrington Arms inn and pub.  A small bar area lends itself to several small wooden tables and benches, and was the perfect spot to enjoy a pint of cider and a traditional English fish and chips dinner.

England 2015 – Day 2: From London to Chipping Campden (on the left)

Despite a solid 9 hours of sleep last night, I still woke up tired this morning.  Blame it on my body thinking I was getting up at 1AM.  I had a few hours to spend in London before heading to pick up the rental car, so I took advantage of the quiet streets and wound my way from my hotel in Westminster to Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park, and back.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

London has a very different feel when you beat the crowds and can enjoy a walk without wall to wall people surrounding you.  I took the obligatory pictures of Buckingham Palace (and the boatload of news vans camped out awaiting the Royal baby announcement!) and then headed back to my hotel via St. James’s Park.  While there are plenty of other things to see and do in London that I skipped over this time, the Cotswolds were calling me.

Why the Cotswolds?  I don’t know when or where I first saw pictures of the picturesque (there really are no other names for them!) villages lined with honey colored stone cottages and thatched roofs, but I’ve wanted to come here ever since.  My plan to do a day trip on my last visit to London was foiled due to conflicting plans, so I made up my mind to take a trip just to the Cotswolds.

Of course, my first hurdle of the day was the rental car.  I made it to the Hertz location without a problem, and after several different car-type offers, I was off and running in a Kia Cee’d.  I didn’t begin to panic until I drove up to the “check out” booth.

Kia Cee'd
Kia Cee’d

All of a sudden I realized that once that gate went up, I was going to be driving straight into the traffic around the airport and onto the motorway.  Yikes!  I should have brushed up on my British road signs before leaving home.  I still don’t know what some of the signs mean.  Once I got on the motorway and away from the city, driving became a lot easier.  As easy as driving a right-hand drive car on the left side can be anyway.  I exited the motorway near Oxford and took back roads to my first destination: Moreton-in-Marsh.  Sort of a large village, Moreton was my first introduction to Cotswold stone architecture, and also my first afternoon tea of the trip.  Not being into tea at all, and not finger sandwiches either, I discovered on my last visit that cream tea was invented just for me.  It typically involves a scone with jam and clotted cream and tea.  Fortunately, nobody even bats an eye when I ask for hot chocolate instead of tea.  Tilly’s Tea Room was the perfect setting for my first afternoon tea.

Stow on the Wold
Stow on the Wold

After Moreton-in-Marsh, I made my way to Stow-on-the-Wold, one of the more popular Cotswold villages.  I found easy parking in the car park and then walked around the town, including St. Edward’s church.  Most stores and shops are closed on Sundays, but it was fun to peek in the windows and take in English village life.  My last stop before heading to my hotel was Blockley.  Coming into the town, I parked by the small church and explored the village.  This village is more residential than commercial, and walking up and down the lanes was exactly what I pictured the Cotswold villages to be.  Beautiful honey colored stone cottages, tiny lanes lined with compact cars and flowering trees, and a quaint village center with a matching honey colored church.  It was an afternoon I could relive over and over again and never get bored.

Blockley
Blockley

My final destination was the lovely Charingworth Manor on the outskirts of Chipping Campden.  Charingworth is an old manor house built about 700 years ago that has been converted into a hotel.  While the rooms have old-world character and charm, they also have modern amenities like TVs and “wifi” (I was told it is spotty at best here in the countryside).  The day was capped off by dinner in the hotel lounge and some white chocolate covered honeycomb candy I purchased at a cute little sweet shop in Moreton earlier in the afternoon.