50th birthday wife Lorraine, sister Lynne and brother-in-law John
took an unescorted five-day walking trip through the Cotswolds in
England, preceded by a few days of touring by car.
On July 15 we
rented the car at Heathrow Airport and drove west toward Avebury,
our first destination. The car, a Vauxhall, was the perfect size
for four people and luggage, and very comfortable. However, John
had the difficult task of shifting with his left hand as well as
driving on the left side of the road. David navigated and helped
make sense of the many roundabouts. Highway driving, while much
faster than in the US, was easier than motoring through the back
roads, which are narrow and winding. We enjoyed such cultural differences
as seeing a truck of homing pigeons, a sign that warned "Adverse
Camber" and the ubiquitous camera sign, which we thought meant
scenic viewpoint but turned out to mean speed monitored. Several
hours into the drive, we figured out how to get the car into reverse,
significantly easing parking.
of a prehistoric circle of 100 stones covering a large area, was
made more enjoyable by first visiting the museum. We then wandered
out among the stones (and sheep--the first of thousands we would
encounter). Wonderful organic lunch at the Stones next to the stones.
We then took a short drive and half-mile walk to the West Kennet
Long Barrow, a large burial chamber.
Next stop: Stonehenge,
which has larger stones than Avebury but is very compact and, surprisingly,
right next to the highway. They don't let you walk among the stones
any longer, which we thought would be a negative, but it actually
lends more impact by keeping the site clear of people and having
you consider it from all around the perimeter while listening to
an excellent audio tour.
We had to stop
at the George Hotel in Lacock to get directions to our first B&B,
Lower Home Farm, described as "homely" in their literature.
The large, attractive house is surrounded by pasture, which we found
unattractive to walk in, and their pond was inaccessible. Exhausted,
we created dinner from whatever snacks we had on us, plus biscuits
and tea. D&L had a lovely room with bathtub, but L&J's shower
was practically worthless.
The next morning
we got our first taste of what would be offered to us daily for
two weeks: the Full English Breakfast, consisting of eggs, bacon,
sausage (yes, both), tomatoes and mushrooms--all fried--plus toast,
cereal, juice and tea. We spent the day in Bath, where we had a
wonderful, free city tour by a volunteer historiana very enjoyable
two hours. After sandwiches in the park, D&L met with VOA fan
Ray Quick of Bristol for an all-too-short hour over ice cream. The
four of us met up later to see the Roman baths with an audio tour.
day we went to Wells, a lovely medieval town with a cathedral. It
was market day, and we bought cheddar cheese from Cheddar plus bread
and lots of Italian delicacies for a picnic later in the day. The
cathedral has notable clocks both inside and out and bathrooms that
feature an "all-in-one" sink--you place your hands into
the opening of a stainless steel box in the wall, then press three
successive buttons for water, soap and hot air. We walked around
the moat visited Vicars Close, an ancient street of houses still
We then drove
north into the Cotswolds, taking the M-5 to Stroud, where we hoped
to see a Brick and Rolling Pin Throwing Competition. We did not
find the event, but we picnicked outside the recreation center.
Despite very cool, breezy weather, kids were in the swimming pool.
On the way to our destination we got lost because one highway's
route designation had been changed. We stumbled into a berry market,
where we heard about JFK Jr.'s lost plane. After asking three people
for directions we finally made it to Bourton-on-the-Water, but decided
it was too busy to park there and continued on to Upper Slaughter,
a cute village. We were directed to park in a sheep pasture because
of a church festival, which was just ending. L&J called Deborah,
then we started out on a seven-mile circular walk through Lower
Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water.
a tiny village with a mill selling crafts and ice cream, was fairly
close. Bourton-on-the-Water, a much larger village, was filled with
visitors and the shops that serve them. It calls itself the Venice
of the Cotswolds because of the lovely canal that runs through town.
We shopped and lounged around for over an hour before starting out
for Upper Slaughter via a different route that took us through peaceful
fields. This was our first exposure to the gorgeous rolling fields
and pastures we would walk through for the next five days, and our
introduction to the challenges: avoiding sheep poop and cow pies,
climbing over stiles and finding and then staying on the permitted
walking path (Britain has an enormous network of walking paths,
and much of it goes through private farmland, where the owner is
obligated to provide access. Unfortunately, access often consists
of making your way around the perimeter of large fields. Happily,
it's been a dry summer so it wasn't muddy.)
At our lovely
B&B in Woodstock, the Laurels, we had a pick-up dinner in L&J's
room of berries and the rest of our lunch.
18 was David's 50th birthday and the start of the five-day walk
through the Cotswolds from Oxford to Stratford-upon-Avon, a distance
of over 60 miles. (Alternative
Travel Group of Oxford supplied us with maps and detailed instructions
of our walking route, booked inns along the way and transported
our luggage from inn to inn, a program they called Footloose. Other
than that, we were on our own.) After breakfast at the Laurels--the
best we would have, since it included granola, nuts, fruits and
yogurt--we met our ATG route manager, Breifne MacDonagh, who answered
our questions and told us that he'd be picking up our bags every
morning by 9:30.
We drove to
Oxford and found the rental car return without difficulty. (We just
left the car, as the office was closed on Sunday.) We took a two-hour
walking tour of the university, which we found a bit long and repetitive,
then went up the tower of University Church, which was not worth
the effort for the view--although the resulting photos are nice.
After shopping at Blackwell's, the famous bookstore, we set out
for the canal to start the Footloose trip. Our first delight came
from the narrow boats lining the canal in which people live. Many
were ornately painted and decorated with flower planters. The distance
along the canal was longer than we thought (at that point, we hadn't
quite figured out how the notes on the map designated distance).
We felt our way to a pub Breifne recommended. The day was unusually
hot and sunny, so we were grateful to finally reach the Trout Inn,
a delightful spot next to water with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Many other people were celebrating the sunny Sunday there, so it
was bustling. We had to piece together how a pub works: you find
your own table, then go inside to stand in one line for drinks and
another to order and pay for food, which is later brought to your
table. The Trout Inn was filled with Inspector Morse memorabilia,
as it has been used in several episodes.
walk, we had our first problem interpreting the map and wound up
taking a "long cut." L&D developed blisters from being
in hiking boots all day, as we wound up taking a much longer walk
than anticipated. We barely made it to the Laurels in Woodstock
in time to wash up for David's special birthday dinner, which L&J
had arranged at the Feathers. David opened some presents and we
had a gourmet meal with beautiful presentation. The food on each
dish was arranged vertically--in almost a parody of the trend. They
threw in a demitasse of soup and a "pre-dessert" for free.
Of course, David's dessert had candles but we spared him the singing.
John had arranged with the server to slip David a Three of Clubs
(John managed to surprise David with a Three of Clubs every day
of the trip--an inside joke from Penn and Teller).
L&J went to Blenheim to walk the grounds and D&L followed
a bit later, having bought blister plasters at the chemist's. We
were the only ones in the Marlborough Maze, a classic British hedge
maze, and it was quite difficult to find our way to the center.
D&L then set off on the Footloose route to compensate for our
impeded walking while L&J toured the palace and more of the
grounds. After several hours D&L reached Black's Head Pub in
tiny Stonesfield at 2:30, where we were to meet L&J. We got
drinks and played the juke box, but had to leave at 3 because the
owner closed then until dinnertime. We left a note for L&J that
we'd be at the bus stop, but before the bus came, L&J arrived.
Lynne was thrilled to find an "8 to 8" shop there and
after buying lunch of sorts we all continued walking to Charlbury,
eight miles away.
The small hotel
at Charlbury, The Bell, was our worst accommodation and ironically
perhaps the most expensive. It had a young, inexperienced staff
and while L&J's room was decent, D&L's room was in disrepair
and provided access to the fire escape. Happily, there was no fire
that night. We tried to eat dinner elsewhere but the few options
were closed, so we were forced to dine there. L asked the young
server what the soup of the day was and she returned from the kitchen
to announce that it was white onion. L asked if it had pepper in
it. "I don't know." "Please ask." She returned
to announce that the soup of the day had been changed to cream of
mushroom. John received beef burgundy and rice instead of lamb and
couscous. The dessert menu featured spotted dick, but we didn't
we got good bread and cheese at the butcher shop next to the hotel,
then started for Stow-on-the-Wold, an agonizing and hilly 15 miles
away. Early on we noticed a TV relay tower on a hill in the distance;
it took nearly all day to reach it. We got rained on--our only time--as
we approached Chilson and sought refuge in the church there, but
it was locked. We did find an open church in Ascott, then made it
to the Shaved Crown Inn in Shipton-under-Wychwood, where we dried
out and had lunch. (We should have stayed there instead of at the
Bell in Charlbury...it was lovely).
walk seemed to go on forever, up and down steep hills, through beautiful
linseed and wheat fields and of course sheep pastures. We met only
two people along the way--a local in an ascot walking his dog, and
an Aussie backpacker going the other direction. (This was typical--we
saw very few people along the paths.) It was well into the evening
when we reach Stow-on-the-Wold, a picturesque town, and our wonderful
inn, the Royalist. We were greeted at the desk by a man much like
Basil Fawlty of Fawlty Towers, who reported that they do have an
employee from Barcelona. We had a lovely tapas dinner there at the
bar, which had an "upside-down wishing well" (actually
coins wedged into cracks in the ceiling beams). The inn is reputedly
the oldest in England and still retains portions of the original
walls from 947 A.D., "witches' marks" at the fireplace,
an alms window, and very low doorways; it was interesting to see
how they managed to turn it into a comfortable inn with modern amenities.
L&J started out early to Moreton-in-Marsh, 6 ½ miles
away, while D&L walked around Stow and bought souvenirs and
plasters, then took the 11:20 bus to meet L&J (one negative
about the Footloose plan is that walking took all day, so we never
got to browse the shops). While L&J's walk took 2 ½ hours,
D&L's bus ride lasted only 10 minutes, during which D&L
chatted with Brits (two older women) who are members of the Ramblers,
the popular walking club. They were staying at hostels in towns
where the local club was sponsoring a walk, then they would move
on by bus to the next town and do another ramble.
Moreton-in-Marsh (John waved to D&L on the bus), the four of
us toured the busy market town, bought picnic provisions (a wonderful
bread called Scottish bap, assorted pasties, strawberries and cheese)
and continued on the Footloose route toward Chipping Campden, 7
½ miles away. Despite constant dark clouds, it never rained,
which is good because the route was open and quite hilly.
Atop one hill
was Blockley, a very cute town with a great pub where we stopped
for drinks (John tried a shandy, which is lemonade and ale). We
passed a man painting his shutters in Blockley and commented that
he must not think it's going to rain. His reply: "Rain? In
Blockley? Never!" (Every local we met on the trip was both
friendly and colorful; they dressed, spoke and behaved like British
characters one would order from Central Casting.)
Broad Campden we finally arrived in Chipping Campden and our high-class
lodging, the Seymour House Hotel. Our huge, elegant rooms were located
in a cottage building well behind the main hotel and the correct
luggage was in each room--a first. The manager asked us which newspapers
we would like delivered in the morning (and charged us a premium
for them at checkout). After baths we walked around the lovely village,
then ate dinner in the hotel. We first were seated in the fancy
dining room but Lorraine was picking up "snob vibes" and
felt uncomfortable, so we moved to the bar. We had the back room
to ourselves next to an ancient leaded window, and enjoyed a fine
meal. The next day Lorraine realized that the discomfort she felt
in the dining room may have been tension between the manager and
an awkward server, whom we had dubbed Manuella. At breakfast Manuella
served us lukewarm coffee and tea, which we brought to her attention.
She apologized and returned to tell us that "no one [meaning
her?] had turned the boiler on." She never did bring Lynne
cool, overcast and windy all day. We compounded the 14-mile route
to Stratford-upon-Avon by walking around Hidcote Gardens. But we
found it, as advertised, one of the best in Britain, comprised of
huge themed "rooms" created by trees and tall hedges.
Abutting the Gardens was a farm offering pick-your-own berries,
which Lynne was only too happy to do. We made several mistakes following
directions this afternoon and sometimes struggled with overgrown
paths. We picnicked on the green in Upper Quinton, a large, ugly
plot of grass, as the pub was closed--an all-too-common occurrence
for us. One wrong turn was in Preston-on-Stour, where we asked some
residents for directions, which resulted in one of the many delightful
exchanges we had with Brits. The Reids were outside their home,
an old mission they restored and added a second floor to. A worker
had come to repair phone lines cut by a hedge trimmer two days before--and
their neighbor hadn't even realized he was without phone service!
The Reids gave us a history of the village and manor house and even
let us use their bathrooms.
We were all
relieved when Stratford-upon-Avon came into view. The route took
us along the canal, but we cut a bit off the final leg by taking
the little ferry across the Avon, operated by another man out of
Central Casting. We were assigned the top floor at the Stratheden
Hotel, wonderfully angular rooms with ancient wooden beams exposed.
The proprietor recommended a brasserie down the street for dinner,
as we were famished, and we ordered champagne to celebrate the successful
completion of our adventure. D&L's college friends, Dave and
Charlotte Spector and their two teens, Daniel and Lynn, were in
Stratford at the same time and came to the Stratheden to look for
us. The proprietor sent them to the brasserie and we had a nice
Friday we celebrated
the end of our walk by sleeping late, then going to the laundromat.
We bought a bevy of gifts at the National Trust shop and did some
sightseeing, although the day was quite hot. Instead of lunch and
dinner we had High Tea at the Shakespeare Hotel: a pot of Earl Gray,
scones with jelly and clotted cream (it's like thick whipped cream
without sugar), triangular sandwiches of ham, cucumber, and smoked
salmon (separately) with the crusts cut off, plus assorted petits
fours. After an interesting tour of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
and adjacent Swan Theatre, we saw a performance of Antony and Cleopatra
(the Spectors attended both events by pre-arrangement), where we
enjoyed seats in the third row.
for London on Saturday to meet Andrea, and D&L rented a car
and headed west toward Wales, with stops along the way. We lingered
in Worcester Cathedral as the boys' choir was rehearsing--and the
cathedral had much of interest (including King John's tomb and a
crypt) We then stopped in Great Malvern, Ross-on-Wye, and the ruins
of Goodrich Castle, which had an illuminating audio tour depicting
castle life. We wound up the day at Tintern Abbey in Wales. After
checking into our B&B, the Wye Barn (which had been used by
Tintern monks to store tanning bark), we walked along the opposite
bank of the Wye River (the side in England!) to eat a picnic dinner
as the setting sun illuminated Tintern Abbey. During the walk we
passed a pasture of long-haired (and long-horned) Scottish cows
and chatted with the owners, who were checking on a three-week-old
guests breakfasted together, which gave us the opportunity to ask
a Welsh historian the question David had been asking throughout
England: what do the words around the outer edge of the pound coin
mean? The coin is minted with four different "tails" and
corresponding messages in four separate languages, and the Welsh
words mean "loyal to my country," from the Welsh national
anthem. After touring Tintern Abbey we visited Caerphilly Castle,
breaking up a long drive to the southwest corner of Wales, where
our destination was St. David's and the dramatic Pembrokeshire coastline.
We stopped in the port village of Solva, known for its brightly
painted cottages, and returned to the car to find two boys peering
in admiringly. We had been upgraded to a just-released Volvo that
featured a global positioning system screen (not hooked up) and
audio controls on the steering wheel--a real plus for David.
At St. David's
we toured the ruins of the Bishop's Palace and then St. David's
Cathedral. The presence of a cathedral, a destination for pilgrims,
makes St. David's officially a city, although it's just a small
village. Despite the wind we bought pasties for dinner and ate outside
(the day had been warm and overcast until we reached Pembrokeshire).
We decided to walk to the coast but on the way came across a carnival,
where D rode the bumper cars, and we decided to turn back as we
still had to drive seven miles to Trevine to our B&B, the Awel-Mor
Guest House (means ocean breeze in Welsh).
On a hot and
sunny Monday we walked the coastline both at Whitesand Bay to St.
David's Head and then at St. Govan's Head, where L went down the
cliffside to see the chapel. Heading back toward England, we stopped
at the Caerleon Roman fortress. Although we arrived too late to
tour the baths, we enjoyed the museum and the outdoor sites, including
the amphitheater and barracks. We checked into our B&B outside
Hungerford, Marshgate Cottage Hotel, and walked along the canal
into town, where we had a good pub dinner.
left the B&B in plenty of time for our flight on Tuesday, we
cut it close after being caught in a massive traffic jam, then were
unable to find the place to return the car, then faced huge lines
for check-in. But we made it home safe and sound.