Chapter Twelve: Chavenage House & Malmesbury

P1010634Chapter Twelve:  Chavenage House & Malmesbury

Day Thirteen – Come On-A-My-House, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badgers, Cromwell Slept Here, Helicopter Pad, Two Shakes Of A Cat’s Whiskers, Town Tour, A Smoking Dog, The Lady Or The Tiger, Shopping At The Prince’s Store, Step By Step, Wine Closeout and Another Good English Meal

About two months before we departed for England, I checked out which days certain attractions were open so we could utilize our time wisely.   One of the places I really wanted to visit was an historic lodging located near Tetbury called Chavenage House, which was reconstructed by Edward Stephens in the 1570s.

P1010568Unfortunately, it looked as though Chavenage House would be closed when we would be staying in Tetbury, but I emailed them just in case I misread the website.  I really just expected a form email that said, “Yes, sorry we’re closed,” but much to my surprise I received a nice, personal email from the owner’s daughter, Caroline, who happened to be in Scotland.   She said she’d work something out when she returned.

  A few weeks later she emailed me and said, “Can you come by at 10:30 on Tuesday, October 1st? I will give you a personal tour of the house (we were charged £20 apiece…it’s usually £8…but, hey, it was a private tour).”   We were in!!

P1010421After another delicious breakfast courtesy of Brock at York House, we first paid a visit to St. Mary The Virgin’s Church located very near the b&b.

P1010562From the church website:  “There has been a Christian place of worship on the site of St Marys’ since at least 681 AD. The present church was built following the demolition of the medieval church in 1777. The church today, with its elegant spire, is a focal point in the town.”

P1010567Entering the church we saw a mural depicting The Annunciation. I had read that “Worshippers have a love-hate relationship with the box-pews.”  Their Gothic fronts are original.

P1010565It was now time to make the short drive to Chavenage, where we were greeted by Caroline’s mother, Rona.


Rona was married at Chavenage and has lived there for the past 55 years. Chavenage had been gifted to Rona and her husband as a wedding gift.

P1010572Rona said the family still lives at the house, and it is rented out occasionally for weddings. They’ve also had lots of movies and television shows filmed on the property.   She said the family used to raise cows, but the herd had to be put down from tuberculosis because of the badgers (which I guess is a big problem in England).  At least the dog looked healthy.

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Rona walked us through the first room, gave us some house and family history, and then we were joined by Caroline’s nephew, James, who also happens to be an accomplished cyclist.

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James took over the tour and brought us up to the bedroom where, supposedly, Oliver Cromwell slept.

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That Cromwell sure got around.

EngDay12K #07After James showed us another room or two…


…Caroline met us and took us on a tour of the rest of the house.

P1010587First stop was the billiards room.

P1010588 Caroline regaled us with some great stories, including the time that the family received a fax from Harrods that they needed to land a helicopter on the property because luminaries were attending a party for Camila at nearby Highgrove.

EngDay12K #05Caroline’s father intercepted the fax, and while dressed in his tennis whites (and holding two tennis racquets) tried to guide the helicopter in by waving the tennis racquets while standing where the helicopter was supposed to land. “Of course,” Caroline said, ”the helicopter couldn’t land because a lunatic with tennis racquets was making it impossible for them to land.”

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She had other great stories about finding original drawings of Windsor Castle in their attic and, during World II, having the home being taken over by the Americans as they planned a secret mission (which just happened to be making sand maps for the allies to use during D-Day).

P1010594She then led us out on the grounds and showed us the estate’s private chapel.

P1010599We stepped inside for a short tour.

EngDay12K #04There’s also a cool ghost story. Stop by when you’re in the neighborhood.

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The £20 we spent for the nearly two-hour private tour turned out to be a bargain, so the 8£ regular tour will be well worth your time.

P1010598Brock’s breakfast had worn off, so we drove to nearby Malmesbury where we would tour the town, including the abbey where there was a grave of a woman who met an unusual demise.   First, it was time for lunch.

When we parked, I went into the TI and asked where the Old Bell Hotel was located. The woman at the TI gave me a map, pointed and said, “It’s right over there. You’ll be there in two shakes of a cat’s whiskers.”  Love those Brits!  She also gave me a map that had a walking tour of Malmesbury.

P1010615Brock had recommended the Old Bell Hotel as a spot for lunch. The Old Bell really is old…it is the oldest hotel in England and dates back to 1220. It’s located very near the Malmesbury Abbey.

P1010616Instead of eating in the dining room, we decided to eat at the brassiere (Loring’s Brassiere), which was less formal (much like us).   We ended up having two waiters, who came from (drum roll)…Italy and Portugal.   Mary tried the broccoli soup with egg, along with white truffle oil.  Tracy went for the prosciutto, mozzarella and rocket ciabatta sandwich, while Kim and I had a roast beef sandwich with onion, marmalade and horseradish. The bill came to £34.80.

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It was now time to take our 90-minute self-guided walking tour of Malmesbury.  There are 28 stops along the way including walking a little of a Cotswold trail with views of the River Avon.  Autumn was in the air (and so were the Autumn colors).

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Malmesbury is the oldest, continually inhabited town in England.  Along the self-guided tour we hit the Malmesbury War Memorial…

P1010620…the United Reform Church.  The church was initially Presbyterian, and became Congregational in 1811….

P1010621…took a walk (danger Will Robinson) along a Cotswoldian trail…

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…made it over the Goose Bridge…

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…saw a Smoking Dog…

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…and some more interesting sights along the way.

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It all made for a lovely stroll…our longest Cotswold walk up to this point.

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After traversing the town and lovely scenery, it was time to head for our last venue.

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We left Malmesbury’s big-ticket item, Malmesbury Abbey, for the end.  The ancient abbey was founded in 675 AD.  The abbey’s most famous resident was Eilmer, known as the Flying Monk (where’s Sally Field when you need her).  He is thought to be the first person on record to ever attempt to fly.

P1010651According to legend, “He was known to have read the Greek fable of Daedalus and it was his belief in the fable that influenced him to make the attempt.  In 1010, after attaching wings to his hands and feet he soared airborne for more than a furlong. He had observed how Jackdaws would circle the area swooping and gliding.  He calculated how to make use of the air currents after which he constructed wings, the material of which is not known. Fixing the wings to his wrists and flapping them as a bird would, he leapt from the abbey tower.  He was successful in traveling a distance of 200 meters, but panic set in and he crashed to the ground breaking both legs.”

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We walked around the inside for a little bit…

P1010652…and were all taken with the beautiful ceiling.

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Back outside, in what was now a rather significant rain, we had to find something in the graveyard outside the abbey before we left. It was the grave of Hannah Twynnoy, a 33-year old barmaid who has the unenviable distinction to be the first person to be killed by a tiger in England.  She also has the hardest gravestone to find in England, and it really wasn’t worth the effort, especially since we were experiencing our first real downpour.

P1050893There is a plaque in a nearby town that goes into a little more detail on her demise. In a little parish church in Hullavington, the plaque reads: “To the memory of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a servant of the White Lion Inn where there was an exhibition of wild beasts, and amongst the rest a very fierce tiger which she imprudently took pleasure in teasing, not withstanding the repeated remonstrance of its keeper. One day whilst amusing herself with this dangerous diversion the enraged animal by an extraordinary effort drew out the staple, sprang towards the unhappy girl, caught hold of her gown and tore her to pieces.”

EngDay12K #02Well, that’s certainly to the point.

  When we got back to York House, Kim and Mary said they were going to take a nap (slackers!).  I dragged Tracy kicking and screaming (dramatic license) to walk around town.

P1010666It’s only about a minute from York House to Tetbury’s main drag.

P1010661We stopped by the butcher shop where Brock got his breakfast sausages and purchased some cheese for our Happy Hour later that evening.  We walked across the street to the Highgrove Shop on the slim chance Charles and Camila were hanging around buying some jam for tomorrow’s breakfast.

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The shop contains more than 700 items, including plants, garden tools, books, candles and scarves. I know the latter because we bought one for our friend who was making sure our cats didn’t die on this trip (we have a fear of that after our 2008 Central Europe trip).  One display even made us miss our two corgis.

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After plunking down some cash on the gift to help Prince Charles’ charities, we started walking toward the famed Chipping Steps, going through a little indoor shopping passage.  I also saw a house I might want to purchase.

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In medieval times, the Chipping, was a market and gathering space for ‘Mop Fairs,’ where the locals would hope to find employment as domestic staff or agricultural laborers.

P1010670At the far side of the Chipping is a row of old weavers cottages on a small cobbled lane.  Thus the steps are called, The Chipping Steps.

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We could have walked all the way down these steps, but, as they say, a picture (or two) is worth 1,000 words, and by now a picture was also worth 1,000 steps for Tracy and me.

P1010672Serendipity reared its Bacchus head as we passed by a wine store having a huge sale because they were moving to Cirencester.

P1010675After purchasing a few discounted bottles of wine, we walked back to York House enjoying a little more of the autumn foliage.

P1010667We met Kim and Mary at about 6:30 in the parlor and enjoyed our wine and cheese hour before our last dinner in Tetbury. We felt quite civilized.

EngDay12K #14While everyone else was getting ready for the day earlier in the morning, I had strolled over to The Ormond at Tetbury Hotel (restaurant photo below from hotel website0 and made dinner reservations.  Brock had told me to reserve a table in the pub and not the restaurant, as the pub had more atmospheric charm. 

He was correct.   It was another really good meal, and Tracy and I said we had eaten much better meals in England than we did in Rome (I still have never gotten over those minuscule lamb chops, which were all chop and no lamb).

bar1-march-14I started with a fantastic corn, chili and carrot soup.   Then I received the second “Wow” dish of the trip, a spectacular beef bourguignon with mashed potatoes.  Kim also had the beef bourguignon after ordering a rocket and Parmesan salad.

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Tracy had the special corn soup and a crab salad with grapefruit and avocado, while Mary opted for a lamb chop (that actually had some meat on it…take that Rome!) with a carrot mash. With some house wine the total came to £92, and it was back for one last restful night at York House.

We had seen lots of cute towns in the southern Cotswolds the past few days, however the next part of our journey would take “cuteness” to a new level. After a day of exploring the area between Tetbury and Chipping Campden, we hoped our next B&B would be close to what we had just experienced in Tetbury.   

Fortunately, our lodging in Chipping Campden would live up to its stellar billing, too, and we would have the best dinner we had on our entire trip.  I was also to be introduced to a dessert that would steal my heart.  Sorry panna cotta. Cheerio zabaione.  There’s a new love in my life, and I’m stuck on her!

Next: 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

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