Chapter Twelve: Chavenage House & MalmesburyOctober 1, 2013
Chapter Fourteen: Blenheim Palace & OxfordOctober 3, 2013
Chapter Thirteen: The Cotswold Blitz
Day Fourteen – Colorful Church, A Gift Before Topping, I Want To Buy All These Houses And Take Them To America, Down By The Old Mill Stream, “A Perfect Place For My England Affair”, This Seems A Little Fishy, The Best Public Toilets In The World, Venice Of The Cotswolds, Finally Ice Cream, It Never Rains In Southern California, Led To The Slaughters, Stow It, A Girl Named Su, Drink Ubu Drink, Round And Round We Go, Lovely Lodging, Danger A Head, Wonderful Willows and A Sticky Situation
Another great breakfast finished, we bid goodbye to Brock and Bean (his dog, not part of the English breakfast).
We were on our way to explore a number of Cotswold towns situated between Tetbury and Chipping Campden. First on the Cotswold blitz was the town of Cirencester, home of a famous church. Brock had told us that the Church Of St. John The Baptist had been recently renovated, and its distinctive yellowish outside was brighter than ever.
The Church of St. John The Baptist is another of the “wool churches,” a church built primarily from the proceeds of the wool trade back in the old days. Nobody seems to be really certain who paid for the church or why such a large church was built in a town of only 2,500 people. There were ten wool merchants in mid 14th-century Cirencester, and the abbey had extensive flocks of sheep. Maybe someone pulled the wool over their eyes.
We found the Boleyn Cup, which was made specifically for Anne Boleyn in 1535. We asked one of the docents about the cup, and he said (rather colorfully), “That cup was given to Anne by Henry VIII before he topped her.”
Besides the cup, St. John The Baptist (a lot of missing heads people in this place) also contained a number of gorgeous chapels. One of the docents asked if we wanted to take a Tower Tour, but we deferred telling him that we had a number of beautiful towns to visit today.
It was another short drive to our next destination, the beautiful little town of Bibury. We started walking in one direction, but were met (and nearly run over) by about a million Japanese tourists who had just exited their tour bus. Fortunately I saw a sign to where we wanted to go, a bucolic little path that would take us to Arlington Row. We met a couple of sleepy cows on that trail, but it was much quieter.
Escaping the tourist mob, we walked to Arlington Row, a row of cottages that are described as “aesthetic and appealing.”
They are (and were) so appealing that Henry Ford once tried to buy the entire lot of them and ship them back to Michigan.
The cottages were built for weavers…
We walked along the Old Mill stream for a bit and we could see why so many people find this tiny town so beautiful. There was one pretty house after another.
The Swan Hotel in Bibury looked like it would be a wonderful place to stay.
I could see a cup of tea out on the patio or sitting alongside a pretty, little stream.
What a wonderful atmosphere!
Kim was so taken with its ambiance that he said, “This will be a perfect place for my England affair.” Mary wasn’t so sure.
Walking back across the bridge (by now the Japanese tourist bus had left, and I was hoping it was traveling south), we made a quick stop at the Bibury Trout Farm, where one can enjoy fresh trout meals and even catch your own trout just for the halibut. “Holy mackerel, there’s a lot of fish here,” I said. I would have gone on, but Tracy said she had a haddock.
The only trout you couldn’t find here was Mike Trout.
A 15-minute or so drive from Bibury is the town of Burford. We parked a short distance out of town and walked to reach its High Street.
This was a wealthy little wool town in its day, and High Street was nice to walk along and get a feel of the town. Burford is considered by many to be the southern gateway to the Cotswolds.
As tourists sometimes have to do, we needed to find a public restroom. Perhaps it is not as significant as a beautiful cathedral or historic art gallery, but the public restrooms in Burford were the nicest I have seen on any trip (it is not at the hotel below, but this was a much nicer photo, trust me).
Of course, Tracy gravitated toward a florist shop, so we knew it was time to leave.
There were numerous people who attempted to talk us out of traveling to the following town because it was way too “touristy” and crowded. Well, when people tell me not to do something in my life, I usually do it (as long as it’s legal).
Bourton-on-the-Water has been nicknamed the “Venice Of The Cotswolds.” I admit I was wary, because once we stopped in Colmar, which had been dubbed the “Petite Venice,” and after visiting I thought the real Venice should sue for defamation of character. We had a completely different impression of Bourton-on-the Water.
Bourton was not crowded and it was very pretty. We strolled along the canal, and after a short walk, what should we see but a Winstones Cotswold Ice Cream. Our Stroud nightmare was now in the past, and I ordered a fantastic blackberry cream cone while Tracy decided on the Mint Chocolate and Kim opted for a Toffee ice cream.
I had just about finished when we were hit with a pretty big rain cell. We all put up our umbrellas except for the idiot who had left his in the car. That would be me. Some were unfazed by the weather.
A gentlemen walking by me, laughed and said, “You should have an umbrella. Where are you from?” When I told him Los Angeles, he quickly replied, “It never rains in Southern California.” I replied, “Albert Hammond (who sang the song),” thinking that would be the end of our little repartee.
Instead he came back with, “Did you know Albert Hammond’s son is pretty famous. He played in a group called The Strokes.” I was going to tell him I’ve had a few mini-strokes in the past year, but thought better of it, so I thanked him, and went on my way, now pretty wet from the consistent rain.
It was now time to move on to Lower Slaughter (above), named for a wetland ‘slough’ or ‘slothre’ (which is old English for muddy place). We parked and stopped by a little church in town.
We stopped inside for a quick look.
Just another charming area of the Cotswolds, we thought.
The Old Mill was built in the 19th, and last used commercially in 1958. There were also a number of cute buildings. “Cute” and “charming” are words that we overused in the Cotswolds.
The four of us kept walking, but then a familiar thought crossed all our minds at once.
Ok, Tracy thought about flowers while the rest of us had food on our mind.
We thought about walking to Upper Slaughter, but hunger pangs told us to “Stow it,” so we headed for Stow-on-the-Wold. Stow-on-the-Wold sits at the junction of seven major roads. The town used to hold large annual fairs where something like 20,000 sheep were sold. Then, I suppose, the sellers took it on the lamb.
On my list of places to eat in Stow was a restaurant called Disbeth’s Bistro. Just as I was reading the name of it off my iPad, Tracy said, “You’re standing right in front of it.” In we went. As you can see above, the above sign tells about an “important” day in the building’s history. Our server was also the proprietor (a girl named Su), whose husband (Michael) was the chef. Tracy and Mary both started with a special blend of teas that are prepared by Su.
It was also here I had my favorite beer of the trip. It is a dark beer called Ubu, named after a dog (sort of like Gary Goldberg’s production company that produced shows like Family Ties, where, at the end of the show, the announcer says, “Sit Ubu, sit”). Well this Ubu was an incredible beer. I can’t find it in the states, however.
Disbeth’s served the best lunch we had on our trip. Mary had a mushroom and tarragon soup, Tracy ordered a hamburger, Kim went for the fish pie and I completely enjoyed my Toasty Cheese and Onion sandwich. It all came to £44.
We walked around Stow for a little bit (the rains returned, heavy at times, but only for a few minutes).
We walked by the town square, threatened to keep Mary locked in some medieval contraption for the rest of the trip, stopped in yet another beautiful church (St. Edward’s)…
We might have to return and stay here one day.
Driving through Chipping Campden on the way to our B&B we were impressed by the cool thatched roofs on the houses. They were striking to say the least. It took us awhile to find where we were supposed to go, and we drove around and around on the same streets until we realized we were only about two football (American football) fields away from the Bramley House.
The Bramley House, built in 1921, turned out be another excellent choice of lodging. Jane (one of the owners) met us in front, led us to the dining room where we received a piece of cake. She told us it was only about a six-minute walk to the edge of town. As it turned out, Jane must be a brisk walker, but still it was only about a 10-15 minute easy walk into town.
Jane recommended Willows as a place to dine, and she called the restaurant and made reservations for us. After freshening up and taking a photo in the Bramley House backyard, we walked into town, saw the Market Hall and explored a little of Chipping Campden before dinner.
It was still about a ½ hour until our dinner reservations so we walked back through an archway to the Red Lion pub for a beer. Heading back out after our libation break, some us navigated the archway better than others. Hearing a big “clunk,” we turned around and saw Kim holding his head in obvious pain. He had hit his noggin’ on the archway. Being the trooper, Kim (in his best Black Knight impersonation) uttered, “It’s only a flesh wound,” and we were on to Willows.
Willows is family operated and every dish we had there was terrific, as was the pleasant service we received from the time we walked in the door. Our waitress was delightful, and our other server, a French gentleman, owns the French bakery across the street. He was helping them out on this evening.
Our shared appetizer, a warm Chorizo with herbs (£3.50), was incredible. They pan-fried the chorizo with the herbs to caramelize it. For dinner, Tracy had a wonderful house-made linguine with zucchini, basil and pine nuts. Tracy and I shared a bowl of cauliflower/fennel soup.
Kim ordered the Brill with lemon capers and a carrot potato purée.
Then I ordered a dessert that was incredible, and it was more incredible that I had waited this long on the trip to try it. I had no idea what Sticky Toffee Pudding was, but I decided I should give it a shot before I left England. The Sticky Toffee Pudding exceeded my wildest imagination, but it wasn’t until two nights later that I would be blown away by one.
Our dinner with a couple of bottles of wine (very good, too) came to £104, and it was our best all around dinner of the entire trip. It had been a really long day of Cotswold town touring (even by our standards), so by the time we got back to the Bramley House we all looked like “death warmed up,” a phrase that Jane had used earlier in the day. Tomorrow we would be road warriors again. We would first travel to Churchill’s birthplace before having a date with some students at Hogwarts.
Next: Day Fifteen – Just Another Great Breakfast, Free Range Children, Quite Capable, Winston’s Birthplace, A Jenny Hat Trick, Where The Hell Is He Buried, Parking Problem, Visiting Hogwarts Academy, Can We Buy A Used Car Here, A Chipping Campden Picnic, “You Can’t Eat Here,” Ubu Redux and Eight Is Enough