|Quintessential Cotswolds Cottages|
Teresa and I have been talking about this trip for years. We took a trip to Scotland in the meantime, and spent a few hours in Heathrow airport once on the way home from another trip, but England is an expensive place. It was Brexit that provided the spark to get a move on. When we went to Scotland in 2007, a British pound cost $1.60 so you multiplied everything by $2. After the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the pound dropped to $1.29, so now we multiplied by one. That made a big difference.
Twenty years ago Teresa read the James Herriot animal books and said she wanted to visit their setting in Yorkshire. I started doing research on Yorkshire. Durham a bit further north looked interesting, and Hadrian's Wall was also within reach. After a few days there, we could head over to the Lake District where Wordsworth hung out. When I told Teresa about this, she asked if that was where all the little villages connected by footpaths are. Hmmm, no, that would be the Cotswolds further south. She had read an article about the Cotswolds in the travel section of the paper and was intrigued by the image of hiking from village to village. "And don't forget Portwenn," she said. Portwenn is the fictional setting for the British show Doc Martin. The real name is Port Isaac, way down in Cornwall.
I'm a firm believer in getting to a place and staying there for a few days. I scrubbed Yorkshire and the Lake District and filled our three week itinerary with the Cotswolds and Cornwall. The next business was to reserve airline tickets, a car, and a B&B for the first few days in England.
We arrived in London at noon on September 27. By the time we got through customs and rode the bus to Hertz, it was close to two. We loaded our suitcases in our sporty Honda Civic. The man at the counter had drawn us a map for getting on the road to the Cotswolds. It looked complicated, plus we had to stay on the left side of the road, plus I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. The Civic had a key fob like our car at home. You just stepped on the brake pedal and pushed a button on the dash to start the engine. I couldn't find the button though. Teresa suggested asking someone, but I felt that if I couldn't figure out how to start the car, I shouldn't be driving in traffic. The minutes passed. I looked at the fob again. It had a little button which caused a key to pop out. After a few more minutes I found the keyhole. Brmmm, brmmm. The map led us through several roundabouts. I was concentrating on staying to the left, Teresa was trying to decipher the map. There was no time to read road signs which I was soon to discover don't really point to the place you want to go. The signs are an example of British humor. We ended up on a four lane highway. Was it the right road? Who knows? At last we spotted a sign for Oxford which was on our route to the Cotswolds.
We were heading for the town of Bourton-on-the-Water, 75 miles west of Heathrow Airport. Google maps said it would take an hour and 38 minutes. This was an example of Google humor. The car rental place urged me to get their GPS, but at $12 per day I figured we could find our way. I would come to regret this decision. Before we left home, I had downloaded maps of England onto Teresa's iPad for use offline. I had also skipped AT&T's offer of $10 a day iPhone service. This also was a regrettable economy.
As we approached our destination, the roads got narrower and the oncoming trucks loomed larger. Teresa warned me of the stone wall zipping by her head. I said for the first of many times that I'd rather scrape a wall than run into a semi. We eventually turned off onto the road to downtown Bourton. Every English town under 5,000 has a narrow main street, or High Street as they call it, with no room for parking. But cars were allowed to park for thirty minutes to pop into the shops. So High Street was really a one lane street and you negotiated your passage with oncoming drivers by flashing your lights. Now that I was driving slowly, the beepers that warned me I was too close to objects started going off.
|England is best viewed close up and on foot|
Of course we're wide awake at midnight. At home it's six p.m. You've had a nice afternoon nap and are ready for an evening of sightseeing. Unfortunately everything's closed now here in England. I pop a sleeping pill and read till I get drowsy at two a.m. Teresa just reads.
The next morning, Kate, the proprietor, cooked us a full English breakfast. Why do they put all the toast in wire racks so it goes cold before you can slather on the butter? We chat with an Australian couple who are hiking through the Cotswolds, stopping each night at a different B&B. A van hauls their luggage on to the next stop ten or twelve miles down the road.
We too are going hiking today. We're taking the public footpath over to Lower Slaughter which is one mile away. That's nothing compared to what the Aussies were doing, but we were going to continue another mile and a half to Upper Slaughter. It had rained last night and Kate said the footpath would be muddy, but it wasn't as bad as we expected, just a bit slick. There was a sign on Kate's front door and on many other shops as well asking patrons to remove muddy boots.
We set off on our first public footpath on a sunny Thursday morning, headed for Lower Slaughter. No one knows why the towns are called "Slaughter," but they do know it has nothing to do with blood and guts. The system of footpaths in England and Wales is amazing, covering over 140,000 miles. There's an association called The Ramblers that organizes hikes and keeps an eye out for landowners who try to close the paths, some of which have been in use for hundreds of years.
|One mile down, 139,999 to go|
|Lest we forget|
Despite all the tourists, the town did not seem overcrowded. The place maintained its Old England look to cater to swarms of visitors. It was fun watching the variety of poses struck by these interlopers. And as I say, the place cleared out by tea time.
|Hanging around Bourton|
Stow-on-the-Wold was a cool place. The library in the center of town had a strong Wi-Fi signal, also free, so I could peruse my phone while Teresa checked out the charity shops. Every town has at least one charity shop, often more, raising money for cures for all the diseases of body and soul. Teresa loves thrift stores and these filled the bill. She's always on the watch for some perfect piece of clothing selling for a sliver of its original price, so she doesn't buy much. I too checked the stores, for mid-century English novels to help me fall asleep at night. We hiked over to the church, the back door of which was said to have inspired an episode in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I struck a Gandalf pose in front of the door, posted it to Facebook, and got a ton of likes.
Teresa was in the mood for a footpath. Mr. Steves mentioned a mile and half path to the village of Broadwell. "We can have lunch there," we agreed. It was a fine walk under the overarching trees, but once at the pub we discovered the practice of village pubs only serving meals at specific hours. We were in between serving times, but did have a drink and a rest before our walk back to Stow.
Anyway, we made it to Broadway, named not for its theater district, but for its wide High Street. It was too early to check in so we found a pay and display parking lot and set off to check out the town. These parking lots have a central meter where you feed in coins and get a slip which you put in your front window, and you better be back before the printed time or it's a £100 fine. This town was also cute, filled with British rather than Japanese day trippers.
We checked into Brook House B&B on the edge of town and looked for a hike. We found we could hike up to Broadway Tower, two miles away. The tower is a five story folly sitting all alone on top of a high hill. A folly in England is a useless structure built a long time ago by someone with too much money on their hands. The first half of the hike was across an immense horse pasture. Then it turned up a steep path through the woods. We asked a group coming down how far to the top. "About a half hour." I hoped they were exaggerating, but they weren't. There was a parking lot by the tower full of cars of the people who had missed the advantages of a vigorous hike. It cost £4 to climb the tower so we settled for some postcards plus a visit to the adjacent café. One of the best things about Britain is how a café always pops up when you're in need of a cup of tea and a scone.
|The Folly on the Hilly|
On the way back to the B&B we made a reservation at an Indian restaurant and went home to recuperate. British cuisine is as Indian inflected as ours is Mexican. The food that evening was tasty and all five waiters made sure we were happy.
On Sunday we made our obligatory visit to a "Great House." I wanted to see at least one mansion à la Downton Abbey, and Sudeley Castle would be it. It was only nine miles down the B4632. I was worried because, in my short experience, B roads were usually one lane passages with frequent pull offs so oncoming cars could pass each other. But the B4632 proved to be a fairly pleasant drive.
Before our visit to England, I had tried to read the history of the country but had only gotten as far as Henry VIII. I was intrigued to see that Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, was buried at Sudeley. The castle at Sudeley had been built and wrecked a couple of times over the centuries. It's mostly in good shape now and the owners have opened it to visitors to help pay the bills. The family is related to Camilla Parker-Bowles and there was a picture of her and Charles prominently displayed in the living area we were allowed into.
But back to Katherine Parr. There's a rhyme to help keep Henry's wives straight, "Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived." Katherine was the one who survived, but not for long. A few months after Henry's death, she married an old boyfriend. She was only 36. The following year she died at Sudeley as a result of childbirth and was buried there. The place was wrecked during the Civil War of the next century and in the following century became a place for romantic rambles. During one of those rambles, a group of women discovered a white stone in the floor of the church and had a local farmer remove it. They found a casket below with Katherine's name on it. A wealthy merchant bought the whole place and restored Sudeley to its present splendor. Katherine got an above ground tomb with a fine statue of herself, recumbent.
|Curst be he that moves my bones|
|Shakespeare slept here|
There's a multimedia exhibit on Shakespeare's life in a large building before you enter the birthplace. Touring the house was fun and it was illuminating talking to the docents about life in Tudor days. In the garden out back, three actors performed snippets from the plays. There were two other related houses in town that were less interesting, but we checked them out because they were included in our ticket. About then I realized our three hour parking ticket was almost up, so I left Teresa and speed walked across the river to feed more money into the meter. After checking out the other buildings we walked to Holy Trinity Church to see Shakespeare's grave. He's buried under the floor in front of the altar. They knew back then that he might be a big deal in the future. Also he had the money for a front row seat.
|Falstaff and me|
The next morning after breakfast, we bid Marianne farewell and headed south for Cornwall, but that's the subject for another post.
|It's the little touches|