Day Eleven – I Got My Thrill With Blueberries Hill, Are You Sure That’s The Name, A Brush With Combe, Sunday Roast, Butterflies Are Free, Admitted To Berkeley, B&B Perfection, Someone Get This Dog A Drink and Dinner With A Fodorite Bearing Homemade Gin
I woke up feeling good (reports of my heart attack were greatly exaggerated…thankfully), but incredibly hungry (going without dinner will do that). Harry and Douglas had concocted the perfect cure for an empty stomach.
Not modestly I will confess, in my not-so-humble opinion, I make the best blueberry pancakes on the planet. Eat your heart out Barefoot Contessa! However, after inhaling the blueberry pancakes (along with sausage and bacon) at Hill House, I will say their blueberry pancakes…were close (I won’t give up my crown that easily). Well done, gentlemen!
Great location + great hosts + great rooms + great food equaled the perfect stay in Bath at Hill House. They get an A+ for everything. Unbeknownst to us, our stay in the next town on our English excursion would receive an A++, but before we reached Tetbury, the four of us were going to get our first real taste of the Cotswolds (not counting those great pancakes).
As Kim guided the Audi out of Bath, Mary asked, “Where’s out first stop this morning?
“Lacock,” I answered.
“Didn’t we already see a blue one of those in London,” Kim quipped? These jokes never get old (to us).
Situated about 30 minutes from Bath is the first of the numerous beautiful Cotswold towns we would visit over the next six days. The 13th century village of Lacock has been used in many movies, including Pride & Prejudice and Emma. Obviously, Jane Austen was not going to leave me alone on this trip. We might as well have invited Emma Thompson to travel with us.
The area is indeed lovely, and after parking (£3) we walked into town, passing by the Abbey of Lacock, which was founded in 1229 by Ela Countess Dowager of Salisbury. Upon the death of her husband, Ela joined the abbey as a nun, and five years later she became its first abbess. After 15 years as abbess she died at the age of 75. Ela was buried in the choir of the abbey church in 1261 in front of the high altar. Unfortunately, our timetable meant we had to miss this dear abbey. Instead, we happened upon a car rally as we entered the town.
I hadn’t eaten in, oh, about 45 minutes, so when I saw a bakery that was selling scones filled with jam and a glob of some mystery, giant white goo, I couldn’t pass it up.
That goo turned out to be clotted cream (obviously called that because of the clots in your arteries it causes when eating it). Fortunately for my waistline and internal organs, I didn’t find clotted cream all that great, so at least there was one food in England that wasn’t going to kill me. The jam, on the other hand, was delicious, so my arteries were still not entirely safe.
Stopping by the small medieval church in Lacock…
…I hoped that the clotted cream would not put me in one of the nearby graves.
Tracy has never found a flower shop she didn’t like, and this one did not disappoint either.
Fortunately there was no room in the car.
We spent about 45 minutes to an hour in Lacock, but now it was time for the next picturesque village on our morning excursion through the Cotswolds.
It only took about 20 minutes to reach our next destination, Castle Combe. It’s obviously a popular spot, because we had to park outside of town (about a 15-minute walk).
I had read that Castle Combe was arguably the prettiest of the Cotswold towns.
For Tracy, there was no argument…this turned out to be her favorite town, which is located only about 12 miles from Bath. The Market Cross is the centerpiece of the village and sates from the 14th century. The Butter Cross was used for tethering and mounting horses. The flowers are just beautiful.
This is also a town where lots of movies had been filmed including the original Doctor Dolittle (Rex Harrison) and also Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.
Seeing people walking up and down the streets of Castle Combe, we were now experiencing “The Cotswold Effect.”
Castle Combe is a picture-taking mecca.
We toured the town by foot and ducked inside the quaint St. Andrews Church.
Outside the church is the requisite graveyard.
Construction of the tower started in 1435, funded by the wealthy businesses in the village at that time.
Inside the church is the Castle Combe Clock, which dates from the 15th century and is one of the very few medieval “Faceless” clocks that still work. It used to be on the tower, but was brought down in the 1980s so people could see it up close. As it states on a plaque in the church, in the old days someone had to climb the tower each day to wind it. When it was taken down, a winding mechanism was placed in the clock.
Our much newer clock (the iPhone) told us it was time to eat.
Passing by a cute shop, we popped into a nearby pub (what a shock) called the White Hart, which supposedly has been around for five centuries. It had seemed like five centuries since we had those pancakes. This is where we first heard the stories about the traditional English Sunday Roast that features roasted meat, roasted potatoes and lots of other good stuff.
We actually weren’t that hungry, but we enjoyed the food (soups were good) and ambiance. Soon we were back on the road, and were faced with a slight quandary. Before we reached Tetbury, there were two more attractions on my list for the day and both were open only on Sunday.
With limited time, we could only visit one, so it was time to choose between the Woodchester Mansion or Berkeley Castle. The group gave me the right to choose (I think I’d worn them down by now), and I decided to sacrifice Woodchester for Berkeley Castle.
I think it turned out to be a wise decision, because this was one of the favorite places we visited on our trip.
Berkeley Castle is the longest owned private castle in England after Windsor Castle. The Berkeley’s have been here since the 12th century (I believe they said 47 generations). It’s also the place where Edward II met his rather unpleasant demise.
From the parking area, the views of the nearby meadows were bucolic indeed, and the cows seemed to be enjoying the day, too.
Arriving at the entrance, we were told that a free tour was starting shortly, but we could bide our time with some winged creatures in the Butterfly House.
We’ve been to a couple of these type attractions before, and these enclosures have always been a bust. Not today!
Walking inside the enclosed area, hundreds of gorgeous butterflies were fluttering around everywhere. They landed on all of us, but especially Mary, who apparently is a butterfly magnet. For about ten minutes, we were in a land of butterflies, and as Maxwell Smart would say…”And loving it!”
It was now time for our free, guided tour (we luckily timed our arrivals on this trip at just about the same time one of these would start).
Our guide, Rob, took us on an informative, interesting and fun tour of the castle.
He gave us a great history lesson on England, the monarchy and the castle.
One painting caught my eye in one of the rooms.
We toured the State Apartments, the Dining Room and The Great Hall. Rob did a great job bringing the castle to life.
Afterward, we walked around the splendiferous (they really were) gardens that surround the castle, with dahlias blooming all around us.
The terraced Elizabethan Gardens complete with lily pond made for a wonderful afternoon stroll.
There was even a bowling green that was put in for Elizabeth I. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we spent about 20 minutes walking through the gardens.
The day was glorious, so we just kept walking and taking photos.
Clouds started rolling in as we reached our destination where we would spend three nights. At 4:30 p.m., we reached Tetbury, where we were greeted at our B&B (The York House) by its proprietor, Brock. I asked Brock how old the house was, and he responded, “Older than America.” It was built in the 1640s.
Brock gave us the lay of the Tetbury landscape, some restaurant recommendations and showed us to our rooms on the 2nd floor (although I guess it is technically the first floor in England…always get that confused).
Tracy and I had the magnificent Master Suite, a large room that overlooked the B&B’s spacious backyard garden. The large, modern bathroom was equipped with both a shower and a tub.
Kim and Mary had reserved the very charming Chapel Suite at the front of the house. Both couples were more than content with the rooms.
We freshened up and took a little stroll through Tetbury before dinner. We stopped by to check out the exterior of St Mary’s Church, an 18th century Gothic church, and walked by the 1655 Market House (Tetbury’s “icon”) where they used to sell wool and yarn.
We actually had to pull out our umbrellas again for two or three minutes while a squall went by. This rain was becoming unbearable. We didn’t need reservations for the first night because Fodorite Travel Board member Julia was going to meet us at 7 p.m. at the Snooty Fox (a pub, not an uppity animal). She had already made reservations. So, at 7 p.m. we walked over to The Snooty Fox.
I read this on their website and jotted it down. Whether it is true or not…”the pub was originally The White Hart, but legend has it that the name was changed by its previous owner, industrialist and entrepreneur, Maxwell Joseph. So the story goes, Maxwell wanted to ride with the local hunt, The Beaufort. The hunt was rather disparaging about his industrial background, and even though they were happy to meet in the bar of his pub, they blackballed him. Maxwell responded by kicking them out and renaming the pub The Snooty Fox. They’ve not been back since (although they’re very welcome…) and the name has very firmly stuck.”
Inside a very nice lady asked if we were the Maitai party. It was Julia. We sat down at a table, but were told we had to go in the next room where the bar was located to purchase our drinks. Kim and I went in the bar area where a bunch of patrons were, of course, drinking.
Of course, it’s not uncommon to see a bar with someone’s head slumped down on it (I’ve been there) after imbibing a few too many, but this person was not drunk. Actually, it wasn’t a person at all. At the end of the bar was a cute little dog that occupied one of the bar stools and who seemed rather tired as he laid his head on the bar. He would occasionally raise his head up to greet people who wanted to pet him.
When we got back to the table, Julia surprised us with a couple of gifts. One was a book on walks in the Cotswolds, while the other turned out to be a very tasty homemade gin concoction. She used a fruit from the fig family to make the gin even more flavorful. That little bottle of gin was finished long before we departed Tetbury. It was delicious!
Dinner was quite good, as well. Kim and I downed some sausages & mash with onion gravy, Mary went for the warm potato salad with blue cheese and bacon, Tracy the fish & chips and Julia had the beet and goat cheese starter with a warm salmon salad. The five of us chatted, drank and dined for about two hours.
It was a great way to end another packed day.
Tomorrow would actually be a rather easy day (for us), but we would still get to see an exceptional cathedral and a church with some pretty cool trees. Plus, Kim would provide the group great entertainment as he attempted to extricate himself from the automobile in a rather small parking spot..
Next: Day Twelve – Brock’s Breakfast Bonanza, You Sure Do Write A Lot, Kim Gets Stuck, All In The Family, Tales From The Crypt, Queen Of The Cotswolds, I’ll Never Find Another Yew, A Royal Lunch, Out Of Season, Maybe I’m A Maze, Beacon Bemusement, We All Scream But No Ice Cream, What Are Dazzling Urbanites Like Us Doing In A Rustic Setting Like This and A Whiskey Lesson