Saturday, July 16, 2011
Day Five – England/Paris Trip – The Incomparable Cotswolds
I am almost dreading putting this part of the trip down in words. I know that there is no way that I will do it justice. I will use the same descriptive words over and over and I fear that folks will tire of my repetitiveness. Ah, well – I can only try, I guess.
Wednesday, May 18th
We woke early, eager to start our first day in the Cotswolds. We had tea and toast in the cute little snug at the cottage:
Our hostess, Anna, had supplied the cottage with a few basics – bread, milk, butter, tea, etc. I mentioned before how much better even ordinary grocery store bread was than ours. I later found the exact bread in a grocery store that we stopped at and it was just plastic bag mass produced bread. But it was so good – big (I had a hard time getting it into the toaster), firm, thick slices that were so much more substantial than our white bread. We ate and wrote some postcards and then hit the road.
The first stop was a Tesco (grocery store) in Stroud. I know that to normal people, it sounds odd to spend part of my first day of my much anticipated trip to the Cotswolds of England in a grocery store. But, then, I’m NOT normal – I’m a food-obsessed whackaloon. I adore grocery stores and always love to visit them in a new place. Visiting one in a new country is a special treat. Also they are a great place for take-home gifts. We got one of our favorite gifts that day – Royal Wedding commemorative tins of cookies that we each took to our offices. We also got a good stash of our favorite English candies: Crunchies, Flakes, Smarties, Jelly Babies, Maltesers, etc. While some or maybe all of these are available in the USA, the chocolate that is used on the British versions seems better. At least to us. I love the stores because they offer something different from what I see every time I walk into a Kroger or a Food Lion. So what do we see first thing?
We DID see some satisfyingly odd and unusual things. This gave us a giggle:
Do you think it was intentional?
Also, England wins the award for most bizarre chip (crisp) flavors:
Stroud was the scene of the recently infamous and inadequately marked pedestrian mall that we tooled through in the Toyota rental car.
Getting out of Stroud (all pedestrians and baby carriages intact, ta very much), we made our way to Painswick. I should say that this was my favorite place in the entire trip. And if I ever win the lottery, my first expenditure will be a cottage here. Painswick has about 2000 residents, feels completely in the country, but is only about 10 minutes from Stroud (a good sized town, with all the amenities) and only a couple of hours from London. And this is what it looks like in February:
(Internet picture). Could heaven improve upon that?
Some Painswick scenes:
These are some of the 99 yew trees in the churchyard of St. Mary’s:
We met a delightful 90 year old gentleman who was the host at the Visitor’s Centre in the Town Hall. He explained the significance of the 99 trees to us. It seems that it is traditional to only plant 99, because legend has it that the devil will kill the 100th. This fellow was so friendly and willing to chat; he told us that the town hall used to be a workhouse (during the wool days) and then a schoolhouse. The Visitor’s Centre was on the second floor and he led us to the window to show us the sites from there:
He was also anxious to share his own history – a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and the father of a one time resident of Austin TX. He’d been to Texas and liked the US very much. He seemed anxious to talk with us, almost lonely. We could undoubtedly have spent the afternoon talking with him, and it was only the draw of the town itself that pulled us away.
We had a pub lunch in Painswick – at the Royal Oak Inn. Lovely place:
We had a good lunch – a selection of local cheeses: stinking bishop washed with pear juice, also with nettle rind, stilton local, Hereford hop cheese (with hop rind) and a good, crunchy baguette. That was great, but what was truly lovely was our visit with the locals. You always hear, at least in America, about the British reserve – how stand-offish they are. We never saw it. True – we never had anyone introduce themselves to us by name. But chat??? Good God, they chat! The owner/chef came out to bring us our lunch and told us about each cheese, what order they should be eaten in and where they all came from. The server told us she’d lived in LA and brought us a fresh blackberry sundae on the house because she’d accidentally made an extra one. How this could be true is a mystery, since we were at that point the only patrons in the place. It may have been a gift to apologize for not having the blue cheeses we originally ordered, or the spare could have been legitimately a duplicate of one that was intended for the proprietor. Who knows? It was delicious, no matter the provenance. Another local couple came in to eat and chatted about their trips to the US (Washington, DC especially) and Paris, when they heard we were going there, too. This little pub lunch was what I’d dreamed about back home and here it was happening exactly as I’d hoped. The only thing that was missing was the offer of a fabulous job for Mr. Kim (thatched cottage included, naturally). Sigh.
I don’t think I’ve talked about England’s post offices yet. In the little villages, at least, they are VERY different from our post offices. You can, of course, purchase stamps and mail packages and all that. But they are so much MORE. Every one that we went into also were little shops with postcards, maps, souvenirs, snacks, etc. I believe that they still have saving accounts also. The Painswick post office was probably the most beautiful and charming one that we saw:
(Internet picture) This 15th century timber framed building is the last surviving building of its type in the village. No other PO in England is housed in such an old building.
I had read about a Roman Villa ruin near the village of Chedworth that I thought sounded like something that Mr. Kim would love, so we headed there next. The villa was a bust (they were almost at closing time and besides were renovating – odd, that, renovating a ruin???), but the drive there was gorgeous:
This little fellow was doing some sightseeing of his own:
The village of Chedworth was lovely and hilly and picturesque and I couldn’t resist taking this picture:
The two of them with their wellies, him in his shooting coat and the lurcher were just so VERY English.
Chedworth has a beautiful church, St. Andrew’s, with a graveyard in a bit of a state of disrepair:
and overlooked by these folk:
And this rather unexpectedly posh domicile next door:
NOT the vicarage, certainly, but the gate is between the churchyard and their garden.
Sadly we didn’t get to Bibury this day. We had driven through it on the way to the cottage from Oxford and were captivated:
(Internet picture) This completely charming place, called by William Morris “the most beautiful village in England” is home to the Bibury Trout Farm where you can fish, eat, tour and shop. I was sorry not to get here, both to see the lovely village and to get some smoked trout.
Went ‘home’ via Cirencester – called the ‘unofficial’ Capital of the Cotswolds. Cirencester, with a population of almost 20,000 people is small to us, but a good sized town still, and too big for what we wanted to do. Nevertheless, we ended up driving around it at least once a day – looking for ‘regular stuff’ – gas, drug stores, etc. (apparently all Cotswold roads lead to Cirencester). It has a beautiful church (yes, ANOTHER church – and we aren’t done yet, my dears) – St. John the Baptist:
With a gorgeous graveyard:
We thought about trying to find somewhere for dinner, but decided to go back to the cottage. We’d picked up some goodies in Stroud and I was LONGING to prepare even a simple meal in our little cottage. We had some cheese (blue Stilton, Laurel Farm Red Leister), some of that great bacon, crusty bread, lovely little tomatoes, Cox apples and strawberries:
Everything was delicious and I had the best BLT of my life (minus the L):
Dark chocolate shortbread and a raisin scone. Lovely.
I explored the cabinets and found four or five boxes of tea bags. I tried them all over the few days we had, and decided that drinking tea in the evenings is a perfectly lovely thing to do.
When the sky finally darkened at ten o’clock or so, the temperature really dropped outside and in. We bundled up under the duvet and fell asleep listening to the sounds of the wind in the trees and our noses filled with the faint smells of the dust from the centuries old beams the mixing with the tang of the cooked bacon and the nectar from the flower garden.