Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ruth & Friends in the Cotswolds

By Ruth Richter
If you’ve not been to England, the Cotswolds would be considered one of the most “touristy” spots to visit … but not in March, when the weather is “the worst we’ve had in 50 years” as was so often stated to us.  The name is derived from the woolen industry that once flourished in this particular region.  Nowadays, it would seem that numerous varieties of sheep flourish in all of Great Britain. 
We had calculated that it would be about a 220-mile drive from Wales to the location of our next self-catering cottage that we’d reserved near Stratford-Upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace).  We took nearly ten hours to make that drive with no particular major stops along the way.  Ken was lamenting that we were averaging less than 30 miles per hour but we were making great gas mileage, around 45 miles per gallon!  
Life imitates art! Ruth, Bonnie and Marla
in Glastonbury.

We stopped for lunch in Glastonbury and had a great waiter in a pub who said “we made his day!”  He got a tip for the compliment!   Ruth’s “tip”:  In Great Britain there is no need for tipping, it’s not expected, and is usually only given when you’ve been well-pleased with the service.   I believe once upon a time that had something to do with the way we tip in the U.S.!  Glastonbury is all about ghosts and the occult; there are lots of shops featuring such “stuff”.
No surprise to anyone, I’m sure, reading this journal, but by now Ruth has made sure that her traveling companions are keeping an eye out for “thrift” stores called charity shops in this country.  We were told the word, thrift, would be offensive to people and not used in that context.  We, on the other hand, felt that if we were to call Granny’s Closet a “charity” shop that would be offensive to our clientele.  Language, even when we speak the same one, can sometimes convey very different messages.  At any rate, we were all able to find some things in most of the shops that we were happy to purchase, and they have as many of these shops as we do, if not more.
There was no direct route to go from Cornwall to the Cotswolds and so the navigator (Ruth) was busily consulting the road map for a lot of the journey.  Most of the time, between a good atlas and the posted signs, it’s relatively easy to find your way to wherever you’d like to be going but we found that in Cirencester they “forgot” to post a strategic sign for us at a roundabout.  At any rate, we arrived at The Cottage in the
Lambing time in Armscote.
 village of Armscote just as it was getting dark.  Our hostess came out to meet us immediately and showed us a very charming cottage, including a spiral staircase to the two bedrooms upstairs (something to keep in mind as you book places to stay is the convenience of the bathroom/toilet as you make those late night forages).  This cottage was built from the foundation ruins of an old hen house, and the owners themselves had done much of the work.  It truly was a charming and cozy little cottage conveniently located to every place we might decide to visit during our stay there.

The next day it turned out that Ken wasn’t feeling very well.  He blamed it on the Cornish meat pasties we’d had the day before.   More likely it was the water since the rest of us had eaten the same things and it had been no problem.  Water can often be problematic for anyone in any country and it’s something to be on the alert for and sometimes bottled water is advisable to remedy the problem.  It happened to be a rainy, gloomy day so we were not unhappy about not straying too far away. 

Stone dwarf on street in Chipping Campden
 But we did drive to Chipping Camden for a tearoom lunch and a drive around the city of Stratford (three times now I’ve visited this city and have yet to visit Shakespeare’s home, but I’ve seen several others of some charm in previous visits).
Marla was much taken with a new word she’d learned in Cornwall; the English are quite proper in their pronunciation but occasionally they will take a word or a phrase and kind of slur it together leaving one wondering exactly what was said.  The word Marla was enjoying and using a lot was directly, but they say “dreckly,” as in “I’ll bring your drinks dreckly".

View from tower at Warwick Castle

The next day Ken wasn’t yet recovered but we went off to visit Warwick Castle, which is an interesting and perhaps unique castle tour where they have the rooms set up representing an English tea party that was given there in 1896.  Everything is just as it would have been on that day with wax figures to represent the various family and guests.  There is also a lot of recorded commentary and conversation among the guests.  This castle also has a huge collection of armor, swords, spears, and so forth.  They also have daily performances of all types of activities that would have happened in the history of the castle.  We watched them using a trebuchet to launch rocks or buckets of scalding oil.   In this case, the rock wasn’t huge but it was quite impressive to see.
That day we also toured Charlecote Mansion, had lunch in their tea room--always a good option for a nice meal.  This particular house was undergoing the installation of a new electrical system (not a simple task when the stone walls are several feet thick!) and so the rooms were not completely put together. 


Our final day in the Cotswolds, we went to my favorite village, Bourton-on-the-Water.  I think my companions could see why I enjoy it so much with a lovely clear little river running right through the village and stone foot bridges arched over it to cross back and forth.  We visited the Automobile & Motor Museum, which is filled with lovely little cars, campers, bikes, motorcycles from the early 20th century.  

Gardens at Croombe

We also visited Croombe House, recently acquired by the National Trust, and thus only in the early stages of restoration.  One of the docents asked me where I was from, and then proceeded to tell me “we [the U.S.] have one of the rooms that belongs in the house … at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York … we have the room in its entirety including the walls, floors, ceiling, furnishings, drapes".  As we chatted, he too said “we’d made his day”. 

Manor House near Lower Slaughter

Returning from the hunt near Mickleton

Too soon, for me, it was time to move on to our next area of Great Britain.  I’ve mentioned the National Trust several times.  Getting yourself a pass (Royal Oak for Americans) if you plan to visit lots of castles, ruins, houses, museums, and gardens can really save a lot of cash … and sometimes in the busier season, allow you to move to the head of a line to get into a site.  The passes are sold to individuals, families, couples, and other combinations.  While it’s not inexpensive to purchase, some of the entry fees are quite hefty, varying from a low of several pounds to 15 pounds or more (upwards of $25 per person).  With membership also comes a National Trust Handbook telling you how to get to each place, when it’s open, and a bit of detailed information, often with a picture. They are sold for a year’s membership and during that year magazines and newsletters are also mailed out.

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