England and Norway 2015 (1) – Costswold, England

Cotswolds, England

Just as we witnessed last year on our trip to London, Bath, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and Hampshire, for an area that is slightly more than 50,500 square miles, England’s landscape and scenery are rich and varied. Jurassic Coast is marvelously dramatic, Cornwall rugged and invigorating, Bath exquisite and sophisticated. Lacock, Highclere, Stevenson, Oakley, Alton and Chawton, although flatter and calmer, seem more intense in its Englishness. We ran through Hampshire in a whirl wind and left wanting for more. Adding to the calling was Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

And back to England it is. But it is not Hampshire, nor Dorset, it is this time Cotswolds. Cotswolds turned out everything I expected it to be, and more. Open countryside, rolling green hills, meandering rivers, picturesque villages or towns, and gorgeous churches, or cottages or manor houses that are decked out in the typical local golden stone, Cotswolds is beautiful and delightful. It is a place where time has stood still in so many ways and in so many of its corners, you sometimes can’t tell fantasy from reality or the present from the past.

In tranquil country setting, Cotswolds is indeed relaxing. On the other hand, it has so many little gems, I found it hard to go laissez faire. Between Stratford upon Avon on the north and Bath on the south, there is a long list of villages and towns to visit. The following are a couple of great websites where you can read about all of them and choose based on your interests and priority, http://www.cotswolds.info/places/ and http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/england/bath-and-the-cotswolds.

We split our stay between Wood Norton at Evesham and The Swan at Bibury and went through Hicote Bartram, Chippen Campden, Broadway, Stanton, Stanway, Snowshill, Morton in Marsh, Winchcombe, Cleeve Hill, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Woodstock, Chippen Norton, Stow on the Wold, Burton on the Water, Bibury, Barnsley and Berkeley. We visited several of them and drove through the rest.

Hidcote Manor and Garden

We picked up our rental car from Heathrow and went straight towards Hicote Bartram, a tiny village near Evesham. Having forgotten to bring our own Garmin, and turning down the offer to rent one from Euro Car, which costs more than enough to buy a new one, we had to rely on our cell phone which was sporadic in connection that afternoon. We struggled a bit and made a few wrong turns. But we made it to Hidcote Manor and Garden. Just in time to warm our spirits, the sky cleared when we arrived.

Not much of Hidcote manor could be seen, only a couple of the rooms downstairs are open to the public. The beautiful garden surrounded by wonderful countryside is the main attraction. The garden is famous for its unique and varied schemes in its different rooms. The creator of the garden, Major Lawrence Johnston, was from the United States. There were farm fields and paddocks near the garden, grazing sheep could be heard baaing occasionally. It was a delightful introduction to the Cotswolds.

Other than the manor, there are probably only a dozen other cottages/houses in the village.

Hidcote Manor House and Garden

Hidcote Manor House and Garden

Hidcote Manor House and Garden

Hidcote Manor House and Garden

Wood Norton and Evesham

Former residence of Duke d’Orlean, Wood Norton is a beautiful building on a hill top with nice garden, terrace and a pleasing view to the left of the building beyond its terrace’s elegant balustrade. It was our base for Hicote Bartram, Chippen Campden, Broadway and Winchcombe. In addition to the main building, there are rooms and banquet venue in two other newer buildings. Our room was in the main building, which, according to the owner whom we bumped into at check in, used to be the Duke’s bedroom.

It was an eventful weekend at Wood Norton. On the first night, a Friday night, there was a Jazz and dinner event in the main dining room and it was sold out. The next night, the hotel was booked for a wedding. We could hear indistinct music up to midnight. The dining room normally serves a three course dinner, the bar lounge serves snacks and light meals, both were quite good.

There was a novelty for me at Wood Norton’s breakfast buffet, honey served on the comb. It was as fresh as can be, absolutely delicious. This rediscovery of honey has led me to use it more since, honey and butter on toasty bread to go with a cuppa is just one of the ways.

Evesham is a large town in Cotswold, all we had time for on this trip however was going to the Tesco nearby, UK’s super market chain, looking for power adapter and finding some at Boots instead, a pharmacy store, also nearby.

Wood Norton

Wood Norton

Wood Norton

Wood Norton

Chippen Campden, Broadway, Snowshill, Stanway and Stanton

Second day in Cotswold was planned around Chippen Campden and Broadway.

Quaint and pretty, Chippen Campden is one of the loveliest towns I’ve seen. It is a small town with a long history and fascinating stories to go around. Sir Baptist Hick was the town’s benefector, Market Hall and Alm’s House are a couple of his projects. Campden House was burnt down during Civil War by its very own owner. Church of St James is beautiful, dates back to at least 1150 and includes in its list of former patrons names such as King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Similar to other towns in this area, the main throughfare in town is High Street, broad with rows of gorgeous buildings/houses lined up on both sides.

It was a Saturday when we visited and there was some kind of regional fair going on. On one end of high street, a group donning some traditional attire was jovially perfoming some folk dances and music, attracting a crowd. In the middle, another crowd surrounded a retangle area where school children danced to some pop songs. On the other end of the street, amusement park rides, etc. were set up, blasting lound modern music, there were also games, shooting and roulette, etc. and booths selling snacks, trinkets and toys common at amusement park and fair ground.

The juxtaposition of the new and the old was striking.

Church of St James

Church of St James

Gravel House (oldest building in town) and its evocative Door

Gravel House (oldest building in town) and its evocative Door

Broadway is similar to Chippen Campden in size and fashion, and only several miles south west. A few minutes south east from the town is Broadway Tower and park. The tower itself is an interesting building but better is the panoramic view of the surrounding area from the top, a view that is uniquely Cotswold and is intoxicatingly idyllic.

Broadway Tower

Broadway Tower

Cotswolds from Broadway Tower

Cotswolds from Broadway Tower

Broadway’s High street is very pretty and filled with hotel, restaurants and interesting shops. We had just 30 minutes to do a quick walkthrough though before we had to leave to keep our date with Buckland Manor.

Croft Villa

Croft Villa

Lygon Arms – A hotel

Lygon Arms – A hotel

Buckland Manor is beautiful manor house with a rich history dating back to the 13th century. Having been converted into a hotel, it has maintained some of its magic and you can still experience the atmosphere as if still a manor house. Expanding its facade is the gorgeous church right next door. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting for an afternoon tea!

Buckland Manor

Buckland Manor

Afternoon tea perfect for that chilly afternoon

Afternoon tea perfect for that chilly afternoon

At close to 7pm, it was still light out and we continued on to Snowshill. Snowshill is a miniature village, it is so quaint and pretty it is almost like stepping into a story book. Snowshill Manor, a well-known feature of the village, is open to the public till 5pm. We missed it and couldn’t see anything of it from the road. On the outskirt of the village, there is lavender farm. Although we found the field, it was not yet time for lavender.

Snowshill Church

Snowshill Church

From Snowshill, we drove on. For a few miles, we passed nothing but fields then we entered another quiet little village. Unexpectedly, as soon as we turned around a corner, a stunning building appeared straight ahead, we had stumbled upon the gate house of Stanway House, located right next to a church. It is an outstandingly beautiful building. It was closed but there was some indistinct music somewhere nearby. Turning around anohter corner down the road, a gate to the house was wide open and we could see that a small gathering of somesort was going on but still could not see the main house from there. Although that was all we could get of the 16th century Jacobean house, it was enough to make a long lasting impression.

Stanway House

Stanway House

Staton is the next village nearby, as small and pretty. From The Mount Inn located top of a hill you get a delighful view of the entire village.

Winchcombe and Sudley Castle

Former residence of kings and queens and the resting place of Catherine Pharr, Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe, has a a long and complicated history. Richard III’s Banquet Hall that is now in ruin is a keen reminder of its intriguing past. The state rooms and apartments that are open to public tells vivid stories of its former occupiers. It is now both museum and a place that the current owner and family still call home. In addition to the marvellous building and its prize collection, there is a very special residence you most likely will meet in the garden.

Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle from a road leading to Belas knap Long Barrow

Sudeley Castle from a road leading to Belas knap Long Barrow

Special residence at Sudeley Castle’s garden

Special residence at Sudeley Castle’s garden

Cleeve Hill

At 1,083 feet (330 m), Cleeve Hill is the highest point both of the Cotswolds hill range and in the county of Gloucestershire. “It commands a clear view to the west, over Cheltenham and the racecourse, over the River Severn and into Wales”. Since it is not far north over Winchcombe, we went looking for it after Sudeley Castle. We did find it. Although the visibility was not great that day and the wind and chilly air made it difficult to stay long, we did get a glimpse of the spectacle it would be when weather cooperates.

Morton in Marsh

There was a number of interesting things to see in and near Morton in Marsh. The Bell Inn, which was thought to be the inspiration for The Prancing Pony of Tolkien’s Lord of Ring, had its distinctive appeal, especially to my hubby, and was the one we hit first. Cold and hungry, we were looking forward to sit down at this pub, maybe by a fire, soaking in whatever atmosphere it offers, Middle Earth or not, and imbibing hopefully delicious modern food. Alas, it was closed for renovation! Not only that, peeping through the windows, it looked like it was going to turn out as a very trendy place. Obviously, we were not the only people looking for it and sorely disappointed. We found a very nice meal however at The White Hart Royal Hotel and Eatery not far down the street across the road.

By the time we got back on the road again it was after 5pm, the sun however broke through the clouds and was shining brightly above. We then drove around looking for a few other places on my list, although most were closed, we got to see Rollright Stones because the gates weren’t locked.

King’s Stone at Rollright Stones

King’s Stone at Rollright Stones

Gate House to Batsford

Gate House to Batsford

Chastleton House

Chastleton House

A glimpse of Sezincote through the trees

A glimpse of Sezincote through the trees

Blenheim Palace

Mind you, it is pronunciated as ‘blenim’. What else can be said about Blenheim? Simply put, it completely blew me away. I first learnt about Blenheim from Mary Lovell’s Churchills in Love and War. It is a fascinating tale of the Churchill family, with most of its pages dedicated to Winston Churchill. But I had not imagined it to be this opulent, grand, sumptuous, exceptionally beautiful place that rivals Buckingham Palace, or Versailles, or Louvre. It is breathtaking.

Take advantage of the many tours offered, free or otherwise. We did “Women of Blenheim”. Tales of strong women behind the powerful men give the place so much color and bring the place fully to live.

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

One of the State Rooms

One of the State Rooms

Consuelo Vanderbilt – An American Heiress who became the 9th Duchess of Marlborough

Consuelo Vanderbilt – An American Heiress who became the 9th Duchess of Marlborough

Elaborate, intricate carving on ceiling

Elaborate, intricate carving on ceiling

Bibury

Huddled around River Coln, Bibury is idyllic and picturesque. We stayed three nights at The Swan Hotel located in favorite part of the town and paces from the river bank. Tour buses did come in with day trippers who made their brief stop around the 1770 stone bridge, where you find some of the top attractions in town close by, such as The Swan Hotel, The Trout Farm, Arlington Mill and Arlington Row. In the same time, the village remained largely peaceful and tranquil.

The Trout Farm is one of the gathering points where there is a restaurant for meal and tea. You can also feed the trout and ducks and watch the feeding frenzy. Twice at the hotel I had trout for dinner, which were supplied by the farm and freshest trout I ever had. The little antique shop between the post office and the Trout Farm has got some fun pieces to go through and might just surprise you with a great find, as it did for me. Quaint buildings, pretty cottages, lively gardens, ducks and swans feeding and frolicking on the river, it really is the loveliest part of the village.

Bibury Court is the largest building in the village but not open to the public. St Mary’s Church is a beautiful building. At its bulletin board, I saw an announcement of some event to be held at the church, including Minnie Driver as one of the attendants. I wondered if she lived there.

The Swan Hotel on River Coln

The Swan Hotel on River Coln

Cottages near the hotel

Cottages near the hotel

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church

Bibury Court

Bibury Court

Berkeley Castle

Planning the trip, Berkely Castle (pronunciated as Barkely Castle) struck me as odd and irregular. It however seemed the kind of place that would excite my husband, old castles, ruins and whatnot. So Berkeley we did visit. Now two months later it still stirs up mixed feeling thinking of it.

On the way to the castle, clouds gathered and wind thickened. As we arrived, it was overcast and started to sprinkle. Entering from the north east side of the castle, we started with a narrow prospect of castle, a glimpse of some very old looking wall. Tall, sturdy, staunch, it stretched on until we are at the main gate. With its entire west wing staring back at us, it revealed to us the formidable fortress that it was. We soon passed the gate and entered the castle. Standing in the center court yard, circled in by the menacing, high stone walls that towered over us, I felt anachronously misplaced, as if I had been transported back in time, way back in time, into a totally unfamiliar, bygone world. Moments later, still awe struck, it started to pour and we quickly ran for the closest open gate, which happened to be the entrance to the main keep and the beginning of the tour. If the castle spooked me a little at first, it soon mesmerized me.

Ups and downs, rises and falls, gaining and then losing their aristocratic title, once a stronghold that got slighted, but against all odds, “900 years later, it is still in the family”. The history of the Berkeleys and their castle is indeed colossal. And yes, they are the Berkeleys who are responsible for the Berkeley Square of London and UC Berkeley.

There are lots of antiquities and artifacts on display throughout the house. We went through it once and decided to do it one more time with a tour guide. The guided tour was included in the admission and our guide was very good, she told many interesting tales and answered questions. One portrait in the gallery featured a Berkeley as a naval admiral, he seemed too young to be true, but indeed he was a naval admiral at 18/19.

By the time we finished the tour, the sun came out high and bright. We continued onto the garden and discovered the best view of the castle.

Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle

Main Keep is from 1300s

Main Keep is from 1300s

Wall slighted and no longer a stronghold. (Note the thickness of the wall)

Wall slighted and no longer a stronghold. (Note the thickness of the wall)

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden

Lower and Upper Slaughter

Many tour guides recommend a walking tour while in Cotswold. We took up Warden’s Way foot path between Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter, two of the prettiest villages of Cotswolds on the Romantic Road. We started in Upper Slaughter, leaving our car at Upper Slaughter car park, right by Lords of Manor, presently a hotel.

It is an easy and delightful path that stays close to River Eye. We passed manors, cottages, paddocks, fields, churches and little foot bridges and stopped at Lower Slaughter Manor, presently also a Hotel. It was a wonderful walk with photo ops every step of the way.

We took afternoon tea at Lower Slaughter Country Inn before following the same path to return to Upper Slaughter. The weather couldn’t be better, just perfect for a jaunt like that through the countryside. It was a happy ending to our visit to Cotswold.

Upper and Lower Slaughter

Upper and Lower Slaughter

Upper and Lower Slaughter

Upper and Lower Slaughter

Upper and Lower Slaughter

Upper and Lower Slaughter

 Yoga posing swan

Yoga posing swan

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