A Travellerspoint blog

Cheltenham to Stratford Upon Avon Day 52

Sat 9th June Having fun in England

Another wonderful selection of breakfast food at the Mercure and I had the best sleep I have had on the whole trip. Not that I have not slept well as I have been so tired every night, but this was just the best. We have really not seen as much of the Cotswolds as we would like.Today we would be travelling through several towns so hopefully, we will get a real feel for this area. We really must come back to the Cotswolds as it is all just what we hoped it would be. So here we go up to Stratford Upon Avon via Upper and Lower Slaughter. Lower Slaughter was the prettiest by far of all the wee villages we have passed through. A very narrow river meanders through the village to the old mill. Beside this is the loveliest gift shop with lots of intriguing things to take home as momentos. The friendly shop keepers also, making it a neat place to visit. They had really unusual and different wares and most locally made. I think it was the only shop in Lower Slaughter that we saw, but the tiny village had such pretty little houses right by the riverbank and goats in the field by the little narrow country road. We had to cross the stream by a little bridge and walk a short distance back past the field to the car. No where to park in this tiny village but the walk was just so peacefully quiet and the sun had finally come out. We felt so priviledged to have come to this lovely part of the world, where time seems to have stood still for several centuries.

The next little town we drove through was Stanton. The Rough Guide suggested "The only nod to commercialization is the seventeenth-century Mount Inn. A pub hidden away at the top of a steep slope above the village centre offering spectacular views from its terrace". Needless to say, the word Pub sounded nice so we drove through this village with its thatched cottages to the Pub up on the hill, to see the view (and have a cup of coffee too). We got out of the car at the carpark and looked down on the pub's terrace to see a huge ginger cat lying in the sun on one of the tables. Missing Alleycat, our ginger cat, (or Champagne tabby actually) very much by Day 52, I suggested we sit at that table, if he would let us. He was very obliging and we were presented with huge pots of tea and coffee as we sat there overlooking this gorgeous village in the heart of the Cotswolds and stroking the cat. I think the sun shining made this just that little more special too. After a chat with a man who had 2 dogs sitting with him at his table, we left to continue on our journey, really enjoying the warmer weather and blue sky. Amazing how lovely places look in the sun eh.

Next town was Broadway where the weather absolutely did its best for us with a beautiful blue sky and no clouds. This was the first time we had seen this since coming to England so we were very happy. Sitting enjoying the ambiance of this lovely village and eating clotted cream and strawberry and cream icecreams in the hot afternoon, was devine. We even found an excellent score in an opshop for Fleur. For 6 pounds a gorgeous very french styled black and white taffeta dress just screamed out at me that this was definitely Fleur, so it was snapped up very quickly. Yes it fitted perfectly and she loved it too when we visited her in Melbourne on the way home. She looked like Audrey Hepburn in it. I was so chuffed as it couldn't have fitted her more perfectly. No alterations needed by Mum this time.

Ah, another town to visit now. This time Chipping Campton were there is a very interesting wooden market place structure with humpy cobble stoned brick paving. This structure dated back to the 1600's. Once again, we wandered the streets enjoying the unbelievable warm sun here and taking in the ambience of another fine little town.

Off again to the next village of Morton- in -Marsh where we just looked from the car this time as it was starting to get late. This was to be our only night on our whole trip that we needed to find accommodation. Des was starting to get worried we may arrive in Stratford Upon Avon to find no accommodation left. On arrival, I thought he may be right when we first tried at a large hotel to find they were totally booked out with a conference in town. We then did what many of our guests do and went to the Information Centre and booked a B&B for the night. No problems Des. As it turned out, it was the B&B we had seen on our way into town and Des had said he thought that looked a good place to stay. He was happy then. It was called Faviere Guest House (4 star) and very nice with about 6 rooms. We were upstairs overlooking the main road in to Stratford with Edwarian style homes across the road. It was quite close to the town and so off we went to experience yet another Pub dinner, before really having a good look around this noteable town made famous by William Shakespeare. Unfortunately, we were too late to attend the Royal Shakespeare Theatre's production that night of Richard III. That was a real pity as we had missed a show in London at the Globe theatre and seeing any other shows in London too. We will book shows next time so we actually can get to them. All the shops were closed by the time we had had dinner. We were looking forward to the morning and hopefully, more sunshine to enjoy this wonderful town with everything being open, especially Will Shakespeare's birth place which we just had to visit. Also, needing to buy a new memory card as it had run out today and there was such a lot to photograph here in this beautiful place.

Posted by RitchieOE 21:27 Comments (0)

Day 51 Driving through the Cotswolds, England

Fri 8th June

Yes this Mercure Queens Cheltenham Hotel is certainly lovely and great choices of breakfasts with very friendly staff. Less rain but still a cold wind today. We walked downtown to get our Maps for the Cotswold driving and check out the shops e.g. Mothercare and Marks and Spencers as well as the produce market stalls. We then headed back to the hotel to get our car and actually managed to get out of town quiet easily now we were more oriented to the idiosyncracies of the roads here in Chelthenham. We had decided to head first to Winchcombe and visit Sudely Castle. This had been the home of Queen Katherine Parr who actually survived King Henry VIII. This was a very interesting castle which housed all manor of information about all of Henry's wives. There was also an amazing display of tapestries, stumpwork (which I have done myself, so I found this really interesting) and tatted lace clothes all dating back to 1700's. There was models of the queens with indepth descriptions of what they wore in the days during their marriages to Henry. There were 2 videos about Katherine. The beautiful gardens and ruins of part of the castle and a small private church in the grounds. This would have been Katherine's place of worship here and very worth going to. We spent a good deal of time at Sudely Castle.

Katherine's tomb was unearthed by a group of women picnicing in the area in the 1800's quite by chance. They opened the lid and it revealed she was perfectly preserved. Pale skin still on her face and her red hair still in tact. She was slim and about 6 feet tall. She is now buried inside her church in the grounds of Sudely Castle. We were really glad we went there and even getting there on the narrow little roads in the Cotswolds was so picturesque. It was raining and fairly late by the time we came away. This made our next planned trip to the 3000BC Neolithic long barrow of Belas Knap, near there, out of the question to visit unfortunately as it is quite a walk to get to it. Another visitor at Sudely told is it was actually a very long way to walk to just a mound anyway, with nothing to see. He had really put us off unfortunately. I still want to go there though. Maybe next time. I had really wanted to visit this place as it was purported to be the best preserved burial chamber in England and was fity metres long by twenty metres wide and nearly five metres high and set in one of the wildest and highest spots in the Cotswolds according to The Rough Guide to the Cotswolds which I had poured over before we left NZ.. It sounded so interesting but the rain and the low light at the end of the day has made it something to do another time. We did enjoy the views from the top of Cleve Hill of Tewkesbury though, which was nearby however.

We decided to drive on down the narrow country lane to Stow on the Wold which is a really olde world market town. The narrow country lanes would be the width of a driveway in NZ. Too bad if someone may have been coming the other way, as there was only room for one car on these roads. Luckily, the rain and failing light meant for us, that we were the only ones stupid enough to be out that afternoon.
Stow on the Wold has many interesting shops and "bent with age" buildings where some looked like they may fall over on you as you walked past. Des found some stocks in the village square to have a photoshoot. Off down the narrow country lane that is the road again to Bourton on the Water which is another stunning chocolate box village in the Cotswolds. Bourton on the Water, of course has a little river running through it. Right on the river was a quaint little Pub that we had dinner in before we drove back to Cheltenham for our next nights stay. This time we found the way to the Hotel easily thank goodness. We were starting to get sick of England's weather by this stage but it almost looked like it may be going to start to clear now. I hope.... I hope.....:)

Posted by RitchieOE 17:56 Comments (0)

Day 50 Shepton Mallet to Cheltenham in the Cotswolds

Thurs 7th June 2012

A very very wet day today as we head for the Cotswolds in England. We had such a comfortable sleep in our Shepton Mallet B&B, Maplestone. Finally, we met the lady of the partnership at breakfast. She came out to tell us to eat quicker, as our full cooked breakfast was already going cold. Nice to meet her though. A lovely breakfast as well. The owners suggested we go to Wells and see the Cathedral there before heading on to Salisbury Cathedral. So we did. Raining all the way of course, but well worth the short trip from Shepton Mallet to Wells. The beautiful circa 1250 cathedral stands in a square green with lovely old houses surrounding it on 3 sides, making it a remarkable site in which to see a cathedral. Very picturesque even in the pouring rain. All cathedrals we see seem to definitely be in the centre of the village as the hub but this was just a little different with the big green grassed square being the middle instead. Every church we enter is always different from the last We are now seeing so many more people are actually buried inside the churches of England, mostly under the stone floors. In the Wells Cathedral, there is a wonderful clock that, at the strike of 11am, the Curit stood by it and said a beautiful prayer for all travellers and visitors. This prayer gave us confidence in our drive around the Cotswolds that God was looking after us well.We needed it later that day as you will soon read. The clock is a little like a weather vane where the man and lady come out depending on the weather (if I can explain the clockwork mechanism in that way). The churches all have many tombs inside them with the person portrayed on the top. We saw this in Italy and France as well but not as many in one church, as we are seeing in England. We are still not "all churched out" as some may expect. We were now off to experience Salisbury Cathedral which was the main reason to head south from Bath before going to the Cotswolds further north. Des and I have both read " Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. He apparently based the book on the building of this Cathedral so we really wanted to see what made it different. Different it is! Firstly, it has the highest steeple in Britain and inside a miniature model of how it would have been built with tiny figures all working on it in various workshops. I actually took several photos from all angles of the model as it was so interesting. Having just had the prayer by the Curit for all of us in Wells cathedral and feeling this was such a lovely touch, we were then asked, in Salisbury Cathedral, if all in the Cathedral would mind either sitting down or just standing quietly where they were for a few moments while a prayer was said. We all then were asked to respond with the Lord's Prayer in our own dialect. This was an even more moving experience than at Wells and it made this church even more powerful as the presence of God was so evident here. I was actually crying by the time we finished the prayer where we all just quietly moved on around the church, viewing and enjoying its magnificence.
Inside Salisbury Cathedral is like being in a graveyard as so many people are buried in it. Where ever you are walking, you are walking on graves and you are seeing so many tombs inside this very hallowed place that dates back to 1197. In 2008 to cellabrate the 750 years anniversary, a very modern font was installed right in the middle of the church. It is huge and is like a pool really. It is in total contrast to the ancientness of the church. There are also a couple more large modern sculptures within the church as well. This church also has the world's oldest working mechanical clock from 1386.
In the Chapter House is the best preserved of 4 surviving original Magna Carta sealed by King John in 1215. It is explained in todays modern English. It is about the relationship between the King and his subjects and their rights. It has significance in today's world as well. We loved the experience of coming to see this church and now I am looking forward to reading the sequel to "Pillars" as it now means so much more to me having seen this Cathedral in all its glory.

Lunch there in the cafe/souvenier shop and then off we went to view Stonehenge on our way to the Cotswolds. This was again spoilt by the heavy rain but it became our cheapest experience so far. As we drove into the car park, we did not see the very small sign (so many are very small in England as I said in the last blog) to tell us we needed to pay to park. We got out, pleasantly surprised that such a tourist attraction was not reeping benefits from parking. We started walking through the pouring rain to the entrance where you pay to walk underneath the road we had just travelled over and had already seen the stones on our way in. When we were within distance of reading how much it would cost to do that, and were standing there aghast, a couple walked by us and gave us a good tip. They suggested to us quietly, that we should just walk out the gate, cross the road and see the stones from the outside of the fence line. This would be free and the stones are very close to the road. They felt it was almost as close as the paying people can get as it is now roped off anyway. Well we took their advice. Crossed the road, took the obigatory photos in the pouring rain and walked straight back to the car. All for free!!! Then we saw the tiny sign saying to pay for parking to the attendant. What attendant? So back in the car and with a skid and a roar in the mud, off we went, once again wet through but we had seen Stonehenge. Maybe we can go back there one day as well.

Finally, we were on the road to Cheltenham for our 2 nights stay at the Mercure Hotel. and to finally see the Cotswolds area as well. Like Bath, Cheltenham is very confusing to drive into and try to find your way around. There are ring roads, an inner ring road and one way streets with no street signs. It took us almost 2 hours and asking directions of 4 people this time, before we finally found the Hotel. Interestingly enough it also had a slightly different name - Queens Mercure - that didn't help. Yep we could finally see it but how do you get into the parking area its all one way as well right there. OK thats the way. Get out of the car - still pouring - haul the bags to the front entrance - no thats not the way Des, I'm not walking through the dining room wheeling my bag with everyone looking at the slightly peeved and very wet couple coming in. Ah the front entrance. Yep you guessed it! Narrow revolving doors! We somehow managed to manouver the bags through it. There was the receptionist. By this time I lost the plot! I felt terrible about it every time I saw her after that. She was so sweet and didn't need me to vent my absolute anger and frustration at the whole process of just getting to where we were standing right now. I blasted her with "What the hell is the point of stupid revolving doors like this when people have large and heavy bags to get through them!!!!!!" It was actually just the last straw for me with Des complaining about my poor map reading and growling at me all the time. We were just going around and around in circles in yet another town again. Des never complains either so this made me feel so incompetant. OK starting to calm down now and realize what a horrible person I had just been to this very sweet innocent young woman who was just so understanding and helpful. Looking around now, I could see we had come to a very beautiful old hotel and its location was just at the end of the main shopping street so easy to walk to dinner later on. No need to go in the car Yay! We went to our room to find it to be just perfect. Off to dinner in another Pub to help calm us down. Finally before bed, we checked out the fabulous dining room I had refused to walk through before, where we would have free breakfast each morning we stayed there. Whew! we made it! We are in the middle of the Cotswolds and ready to discover it .... that is if we can ever work out how to get back out of the town again. :)

Posted by RitchieOE 00:28 Comments (0)

Day 49 London - Bath

Off to the Cotswolds now

OMG this was a day filled with history. Not so cold but still wet and dreary of course. It is London afterall. We took a taxi to Paddington Station and yes we did see Paddington Bear and bought the book for our little Grand daughter, Jenna. As planned, we took the train to Bath to pick up our Hertz rental car which was practically brand new. A Nissan Juke with only 5000km on the clock. Very comfy and a real treat after the crap car we rented in Sweden with Tony and Kristen. With this lovely car, with not a scrape on it, we were very wary of all the narrow country lanes and old stone walls at the side of the roads in the Cotswolds. We were very careful and never got a mark on it the whole week we rented it.
We got a taxi from Bath Railway station to the rental car firm and didn't really even watch where the driver took us unfortunately. Results proved it as we then spent about 1 hour getting lost in the outskirts of Bath's industrial area, trying to find our way to the centre of town to view the Roman Baths. Yes there was a GPS but it gave us completely the opposite directions we needed so we soon gave up on that. We have never used one before and found it all too confusing and only made us more stressed listening to it telling us to turn left when later we should have turned right. Needless to say, we never used the stupid thing ever again..... and there were certainly times when we needed it, as you will read later.
Des used the old fashioned way and actually asked about 5 people directions in the end and finally, we found our way to the Baths and the town centre. This was really good as we had headed up the same hill at least 2 or 3 times and although the view of the town was brilliant from the top each time, we were getting a bit sick of that view. Definitely must be time for another Pub lunch to settle our nerves and feed the brains, to actually find our way out of Bath. We needed to head south to Somerset to our first stay that night in a prebooked B & B.

The roman baths are just so great to visit with all the history and learning how clever the Romans were to make spas from hot springs fed into the baths and how they achieved all this. The Romans have popped up everywhere we have been practically. They were certainly very well travelled and very intelligent wern't they. The Baths were discovered in the 1800's but date back to 72AD when the Romans tapped into an underground hot spring.

We then visited the cathedral next to the Baths, which dated back to 1499. Sally Lunns tea shoppe is just nearyby also and is supposed to be the oldest tea shoppe in Britian, dating back to the 1400's. Hands up who knows "Mrs Miggins tea shoppe" from Black Adder. Well perhaps it was similar to that? What a lovely town Bath is with the river running through it, as so many of the little towns in the area have. Next back in the car to find our way to Shepton Mallet in Somerset, south of the Cotswolds. We stopped on the way at Glastonbury Abbey which is Britian's oldest Christian Santuary built about 600AD, where the legendary King Arthur was buried. King Henry VIII had the Abbey destoyed in the 1500's of course and also had 2 of the Monks living there at the time, beheaded up at Glastonbury Tor, which is high above the village. We would have loved to have gone climbing up to that but more pouring rain prevented that pleasure again. The Tor, looks from a distance, like a turret of a castle. Maybe it was a castle once but that turret is all that is left now. We will have to go back there, for a closer look another time. Legend has it that Monks from the Abbey discovered the buried remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in 1191 and in 1279 they were reburied in the chancel of Glastonbury Cathedral, in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor. The Abbey is just a ruin of course, thanks to King Henry VIII so there is not so much to see although the adjoining museum about it, is very interesting. We also visited another really old church in Glastonbury which we soon discovered, had a man inside who was a raving lunatic, ranting on loudly about something he didn't like about the church and the people and what was happening to his dog. He worried all us inside the sanctity of this lovely old church. He apparently was a local man, according to the ladies who were on duty that day in the church. We later found out there are many drug addicts and mental people living in this place. Really interesting people watching here though. Many women definitely looked like witches and many men looked like warlocks. A very medival town and it looked like the people had stepped out of that time as well when you studied their attire and looked at what was being sold in the shops. Although Glastonbury Abbey was really interesting with all its ruins, the town itself actually had quite a satanic feel to it and in the end, we were quite glad to leave. We definitely felt like we were being watched by some unsavoury people there. Such a pity as it was such a pretty little medival village.

Now to find our way to Shepton Mallet and Maplestone B&B in Quarr. This time we had googled directions making this easy to find. NO not so easy. How hard can it be to find your way into a very tiny village with a street called Quarr I hear you say? VERY! Again, Des got out of the car to ask for directions. Seems there was 2 ways into this tiny town and we had only travelled the other one. Its the turnoff by the cider Factory, he was told at the local pub. Easy? We hadn't even seen the cider factory from the other road. OK we could see that coming up. Yep there's the turnoff down a little cobbled lane with silk and woolen mill stone cottages dating from the 1600's, on either side of the lane. The lane just fitted the flash no scratches car down it with no room to make a mistake in your judgement, on either side. At the end of the lane was a sharp turn up the Quarr with the tiniest sign in England that read Maplestone B&B. Yay, finally we had found that too. The lane widened enough for us to turn into the driveway of this gorgeous mill cottage that was our B&B from the 1600's. The friendly male owner came out and helped us upstairs with our suitcases. What a relief that was as the stairs were so steep and so narrow that your feet hung over the edge of them making you feel very insecure on the climb up and down and especially with suitcases. A very large and luxurious room with ensuite was ours at the top of those stairs. The most beautiful cottage garden complete with pet hens fossicking in the pouring rain amongst the rose bushes, Granny's bonnets and daffodils. It must be so beautiful when the sun shines there. It was just as you see on an old chocolate box. The owner suggested dinner at... wait for it.....the local pub. Hell yes - why not! It was a 2 minute walk down the narrow road to the old stone pub built in 1660. A wonderful sumptuous meal and a great chat to the publican and others in the pub then a walk through the whole village. This takes about 1/2 hour if you walk slowly like we did. This little town, Shepton Mallet has actually stood there for 3000 years as a small market town amazingly. It is nestled in the Mendip hills in Sommerset. The Romans had left their mark there too with the Fosse Way nearby. In 1988, a lead coffin was found and in 1990 excavations there revealed signs of a whole Roman Industrial town beside the Fosse Way. They think there is much much more to unearth there. Wow - like I said, a huge history cramming day for us before we went home to sleep in our 1600's B&B. We also walked past the tallest old brick wall we saw anywhere or maybe like the wall to Vatican City. We read a small notice on the wall that it was the prison. We later asked the owner about it and yes it was still used today as a prison and houses the most hardened prisoners in England. Wow in this cute little village. AMAZING!

What we have decided about England so far - there are few road signs and any signs which may be important to you, are either very small, non existant or too close to where you need to turn off. We miss our road signs in New Zealand.

Posted by RitchieOE 20:10 Comments (0)

Day 48 London still and still in the wet

The Tower of London and High Tea at Kensington

Another very full day with very full stomachs again with yet another English Breakfast. Off on the tube again and this time to Tower Bridge Station to go to the Tower of London. We had a hilarious guided tour with a real live Beefeater first, then time to look around by ourselves and see the Crown Jewels and climb on the Ramparts. What a remarkable place. Bloody old Henry VIII was a bastard really with all the beheadings and rule changing to satisfy his lusty ways. The Beefeaters, we discovered actually live on site with their families and certainly can tell a good tale. The church there is very historic, with all the tombs inside, makes for very interesting history lessons. Heaps and heaps to see in this place. Time to catch the train back to Bayswater Station to walk up the road to Kensington Gardens. High tea was another little extra Lisa had arranged for us to enjoy. This was in the Orangery in the grounds of Kensington Palace. It is a building built in the 16th century by William of Orange, hence its name. A very lovely experience made even more so by the wonderfully friendly head waiter Lucies from Poland who chatted to us and took our photo. He seemed genuinely interested in us and where we were from as he delivered our 3 tier afternoon tea plates with little sandwiches, tiny muffins, scones with clotted cream and jam and very special little cakes each on their own special tier. We each had our own 3 tier plate, along with our tea and coffee. We never thought we could gorge our way through all of that but we did. There was not a crumb left! So that was afternoon tea at 4pm and we certainly didn't need dinner after that.

By then, it was getting late, dark, very wet and we had to walk back in that through Kensington Park to the tube station again. I was ademant I wanted to see the Globe Theatre before we left London. Stupid us really. We should have waited until we to go to London again (if ever we do). By the time we actually got there, we were wet to the skin and the Globe Theatre was closed as there was no performances that night. So no Shakespearian experience and no time to go to any other show in London either. What a huge pity. We just have to go back don't we. We still managed to take photos of this wonderful building which is so different to any other in London. Such a pity we couldn't get inside.

OK I already said we didn't need any dinner but cold and soaked to the skin does give you an appetite and we did need to find a warm pub to dry out in again so you can't go to a pub (Des doesn't drink at all and I will only have a wine ocassionally) without having something to eat eh. It was only a light dinner though this time.

Back to our hotel to pack for the next part of our journey, having only just scratched the surface of London, with all the crowds and fanfare of the jubilee. We loved London so much we can't wait to come back. Perhaps in a couple of years,we will. We loved the history and that it is part of our own history also. Des's Dad, Charlie was born in London and my Mum's Mother was English also, so we feel akin to this country as much as I did in Sweden. Next time we hope to have found out something about Des's family ties to London and perhaps we can see where young Charlie lived as a boy before coming to New Zealand with his family in the early 1900's.

Posted by RitchieOE 22:22 Comments (0)

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