GETTING LOST IN THE COTSWOLDS!
We fly into Gatwick airport and pick up a Ka. This is no spelling mistake. A Ka is Ford’s European answer to a slightly oversized Smart Car with enough trunk space for a modest carry-on bag. I assure her it is the perfect vehicle for roads barely wide enough to take a mountain bike!
She looks dubious as we fill up the back seat.
We have already downloaded a map of The Cotswolds and plonked an “X” in the centre - Right beside Bourton-on-the-Water as luck would have it. Why move around when you have 3 days to soak up a government designated “Area of Outstanding Beauty” covering around 40 x 145kms.
We leave the motorway feeling like a loose hockey puck at the mercy of passing trailer trucks. It’s strange how a couple of turns along an English road can lead into pristine countryside that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
The road narrows. First to a 2 car width, then one car, then: “We must be going the wrong way – This can’t be a road” as the wing mirrors graze both grassy banks with the occasional indent for passing! Sheep happily graze behind centuries old dry stone walls. Poppies paint the fields red.
The name Cotswolds is derived from two ancient English words. Cots meaning: “Sheep Shelters” and Wolds meaning: “Rolling Hills.” Pretty much spot-on it seems!
She, the navigator, is losing it. We have reached yet another “T” Junction with nary a signpost in sight. A lone jogger finally approaches our little car and gasps:
“You look lost?
Bourton is left – Just over the hill.”
The High Street follows the River Windrush. Small bridges connect both sides. A woman with water up to the mid calf of her green rubber boots cajoles a reluctant fox terrier in for a swim.
We have arrived!
After a serious English breakfast we begin our first day of exploration a mile or so down the road at Lower Slaughter – (Nothing to do with the origin of lamb chops – Just a progression of the ancient English word “Slohtre” meaning muddy place!)
The water wheel at the old flour mill is still turning, though the mill itself is now a handicraft and ice-cream store. A group of children on ponies are setting out for a ride. Sheep peer at 3 backpackers studying a map. The grumpy owner of Vine Cottage has posted a sign: “Penalty for not shutting gate 2 Pounds.” Upper Slaughter is a gentle 1 mile walk away.
Sheep were the mainstay of the economy. A 12th Century saying states: “In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold.” Village churches were known as “wool churches,” their wealthy benefactors being farmers. Houses are still built with locally quarried honey-colored limestone which takes on a particularly spectacular hue at sunset.
We decide to lunch in Stanton. The Mount Inn is fabled for fine food and 500 years of history. It even boasts its own ghost – Billy. Gorgeous villages along the way deserved a photograph, even a nose around the cemetery but by 2.30pm we are starving and completely lost – Again! Dead-end lanes and unsigned T-Junctions do not help our mood.
Aha! – After slowing for 3 ladies out for a morning trot, we spot the overgrown sign. We have arrived. The menu looks promising. I am already salivating for the smoked duck breast served with an apple & cranberry compote starter until.......
“Sorry sir, the kitchen closes at 3pm and it’s 5 minutes past. We can however serve fish and chips!”
The Cotswolds encompasses Chipping Campden, just below Stratford-upon-Avon, to The North and Bath to The South. We lose a well-spent day to spectacular UNESCO designated Blenheim Palace, home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill, near Woodstock. We also give in to the temptation of an afternoon at Shakespeare’s birthplace - Stratford-upon Avon.
The real joy was just getting lost and discovering tiny hamlets not on the map. Happening across choir practice in a 500 year old church. Chatting to the purveyor of Fresh Pheasant Pies, Pigeon Breasts and Smoked Chicken at a country market. Taking a wrong turn up an innocuous lane to find 100 colourful barges tied up for the night.
With the pound at bargain rates the time to go is now!
IF YOU GO:
WHEN TO GO:
Copyright © 2012 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.