Friday, October 19, 2007

The Cotswolds

So I am pretty much a bad person. I have been back from a trip here in England for almost a whole week now, and I haven't posted any of my stories yet! Well strap in, folks! Let's share the Ballad of the "Cotswolds/Bath/Stonehenge Weekend Trip."

I travelled with another Harlaxton student (Mandy Lenkey from Baker University in Kansas) and her daughter (Ana). Mandy had found a tour guide company that offered organized bus tours through the area of England known as the Cotswolds. We basically hopped on a train early in the morning from here and arrived to meet the tour bus at 8:30 a.m. in London. We travelled with about 30 other people all day Saturday and Sunday, then returned to Grantham from London Sunday night. It was a neat, tidy, very organized trip and it was incredibly awesome.

The trip can basically be broken up into three parts: The Cotswolds (a bunch of small villages between London and the west coast), Bath (a city named after its famous Roman Baths), and Stonehenge (yeah, I went there). We traveled through the Cotswolds on Saturday, and Bath and Stonehenge on Sunday. In this entry I'll talk all about the first phase of the trip, the Cotswolds.

A brief tangent: the train ride from Grantham to London. It is a one-hour trip, happens quite a few times a day, it's pretty standard/shouldn't be that big of a deal. Well for the first time I chose not to buy tickets in advance, and instead purchase them when I got to the station that morning. The train didn't leave till 7:20 and we planned to get there at about quarter to seven -- plenty of time! Well it's plenty of time if the train station operators, who come to open the station at quarter to seven, remember their keys. There were three of them. Three. None of them had remembered to bring their station-unlocking keys with them. And after spending plenty of time walking around the building trying to find a door that they DID have a key to, one had the bright idea to run home and get her keys. That took a surprising amount of time. I finally was able to get my ticket at about 7:15, and the train left at 7:20. It wasn't the best start to the day, but at least we were on the road!

If you remember, I've previously described England as basically London, a handful of just a few other large cities, and farmland. This part of the tour allowed us to see the small-town charm of the rest of England - via an area known as the Cotswolds (pronounced "cots-wallds"). Our first stop was a city called "Stow on the Wold." It was about brunch-time and, conveniently, the city is known for a dish called "Cream Tea." When I had previously mentioned to one of my professors that I would be down in the Cotswolds, his response was: "You MUST try a Cream Tea while you're there..." That meant that we only had one goal for Stow on the Wold: to try a Cream Tea. And you'll never imagine the name of the first restaurant we found: The Cream Tea House (this all seemed just a little TOO easy...)

A Cream Tea is basically a four-part "meal" (sized as a snack - or maybe a nice breakfast). You get the tea - any kind you want (I had Earl Grey); one warm scone (plain, no raisins or anything); a dish of jam (usually strawberry); and a dish of clotted cream (not sweetened, just creamy... about the consistency of room temperature Cool Whip):

As you can tell, it was pretty much amazing ;)

Now I'm not entirely sure how an area, and specifically a City, can become "world famous" for excelling in the creation of such a simple dish - but I'm not one to complain. It was a great start to the trip!

Our next stop took us to a village called "Bourton on the Water" (pictures are available in my photo galleries). It was a cute little city with a River running through it. I wandered around, found some cute little shops, bought a necklace (and got some great ideas for jewelry) at a rock/gem shop, and bought some Blackberry-Apple jam which was AMAZING.

From there we hit the road for our next stop: Bibury. It's supposed to be "the most beautiful village in England," and I'm here to say it's got a pretty good claim! It really was quite beautiful. There's also a stretch of connected cottages (known as Arlington Row) that look like what you would consider to be a picturesque English cottage. In fact, when you picture a picturesque English cottage, you're probably imagining THESE cottages! They're the most photographed cottages in the country and are used on a LOT of promotional material. Another great sight in Bibury is the little Parish Church they have. It's a very small but very beautiful little church tucked away in the city center. Our walk in was definitely worth it because outside there were a series of Rose bushes:

(I got creative with the soft focus feature in my photo editor!)

Our tour guide was really pretty awesome. I'm not sure if this was really planned the whole time, but he made a bunch of "surprise" stops along the way for us (he's been doing this route for years, and his extra stops were always worth it!). We stopped at a lookout point that had a great view of the countryside, nearby cities, and (had it been a clear day - which it almost never is!) we would have been able to see all the way to Wales!

Speaking of Wales... To wrap up our amazing day, we made one last little unplanned detour -- into Wales! I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find the time to get over there, but my tour guide came through! We pulled just into the Wales-ian territory to stop at Chepstow Castle:
The castle dates back to about 1067, which makes it the oldest "English" castle. And just to prove I was there, I had to have that picture taken ;)

We pulled into our hotel in North Bristol (half way between this Castle and our next stop - Bath) and had dinner at the Fox Inn next door. It had been a while, and I was definitely craving one - so I ordered a beautiful, large, well-cooked/seasoned 12 oz. Sirloin. Words can't describe how amazing it was! And for dessert? My first-ever REAL Irish Coffee -- A wineglass with a shot (or two of whiskey), a few spoonfuls of cane sugar, half filled with coffee, and half filled with cream.

Wait, I'm not done yet -- that night the English Rugby team made an outstanding comeback vs. France in the Semifinal's of the Rugby World Cup!!! In fact, they play South Africa tomorrow night. Even though we were tired we celebrated at the hotel -- then crashed for the night. It's very easy to get caught up in the drama and excitement of Rugby fan-dom... but I'm sure after watching the World Cup here in England I will have much more to tell you!

The next morning we were on the bus at 8:30 and on our way to our next destination: Bath. More to come!
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1 comment:

KJ said...

I have craft envy - and can't wait to see what new designs the stone shop inspires! I just love, love love all your pictures and descriptions. I swear, I feel like I'm coming along for the ride - it's great!!

Just curious - will you be getting to London to see any crown jewels. You know how I love love love jewelry!!

Miss you!