After our visit in Bath, we rented our car and began the three-week drive around the UK.
The Cotswolds area is a mildly developed area which previously made its claim in the wool industry back in the 1600’s and nowadays is primarily about tourism. Like other quaint places we have visited, the area’s historic charm was maintained by experiencing several hundred years of economic depression.
Once cotton from America hit Europe, the market for the good wool from the Cotswolds collapsed. That allowed the quaint villages to remain intact since nobody was anxious to tear down old buildings to make room for new modern structures. The population was stagnant, the existing quaint structures sufficed and many generations of sheep grazed happily.
We stayed in an extremely small village called Hidcote Boyce, just a few miles from the relatively larger, and still quite small, Chipping Camden. By small village, we mean Hidcote Boyce has about twelve houses and no businesses at all. No market, pub, restaurant – nothing but a mailbox embedded in the side of one of the houses. It was great.
(Please check out this blog post from another recent visitor to Hidcote Boyce.)
We rented a room in a house, but since nobody was renting the other room, we had the entire cottage to ourselves. Tim, the owner, informed us that his family has been in this small village since the 1500’s. He and his wife lived next door to us.
The cottage we were in belonged to his grandfather. Almost every house in the small village had belonged to someone in his family at one point in history. Immediately after checking in, we felt so relaxed and comfortable we arranged to add two more days so that we could settle in to our new home for four days total.
When we first arrived in the village it took us a little time to find the right house. As in Ireland, in this part of England they don’t assign numbers to the houses. Each house has a name, but mostly everyone just knows where everyone lives, so no need for a number.
After driving back and forth in the village a couple of times, we finally found the house’s name on a small gate, partially hidden by Hollyhocks – “Newstone”. We noticed that the keys were sticking out of the front door lock. Nobody was around.
When Tim showed up a bit later, he explained that when his grandfather lived in the house, the keys remained in the front door for more than 15 years. After his grandfather died, they had to have a locksmith come out to remove the key from the rusty lock. It was indeed a small town.
Let the hiking begin
The Cotswolds area is famous for quaint villages and hiking trails. On our first day, we took a six-mile stroll to see some public gardens in the area and then on to a neighboring village for lunch.
The hiking trail cut through sheep-filled pastures, wheat fields and along small rivers. When walking along trails across private land in the Cotswolds, we were simply requested to close the gates behind us so that the sheep wouldn’t roam.
The gardens were, of course, beautiful. We spent a couple of hours visiting the Hidcote Manner Gardens. This even included a game of croquet on their lawn.
Visiting the Bard
Our village was just a twenty-minute drive from Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. We visited twice.
Our first visit was one evening to see a play, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Anthony and Cleopatra. The RSC has elaborate staging and world-class actors, all situated in a modern theater on the River Avon.
We enjoyed our little glimpse of Stratford, so we drove back two days later for a longer visit. After staying in the country, we were a little overwhelmed by the daytime Stratford crowds we found on this visit. As you would expect, lots of tourists lining up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, etc.
So we detoured out of town and took a stroll along the River Avon where we discovered a lawn bowling facility that was open to visitors. As you may remember, we have enjoyed lawn bowling on our trips to Belfast Ireland and Queenstown New Zealand, so we jumped at the chance.
We paid our £4 each, we grabbed some balls and took to the lawn. No sooner did we get set up than two local men asked if they could join us. Great!
They were members and we had a great round of play, only interrupted for a twenty-minute break where everyone leaves the lawn and goes into the clubhouse for tea and biscuits. We were the only visitors to the club, the rest being club members, so there was much chatter about upcoming club events during tea. We felt welcomed, as lawn bowlers worldwide seem to be an amiable breed. The tea was hot and the biscuits (cookies) were tasty.
Spoons will travel
As previously reported during our travels through Ireland, Frank is a very accomplished spoons player. You may ask how someone could be a good spoons player. Well, it is great rhythm, some mean finger tricks and a whole lot of chutzpah.
While walking through Chipping Camden one day, we noticed a sign for live Folk Music at the Red Dragon pub on Friday night at 9 PM. So when Friday rolled around, we stopped by around 9:30 and found the small pub was alive with music. In fact, the musicians were close to 20 in number while the non-musicians were closer to 12. All the musicians were locals who showed up to have a pint and jam together. Apparently, during the month several pubs in the region will host such rotating open music nights and many of the musicians will travel among the venues.
We managed to snag a table in the corner, sharing it with a lovely English couple, and felt slightly guilty when even more musicians arrived and due to the small size of the pub had to play from the foyer. To remedy the guilt, Frank borrowed a pair of spoons from the pub and joined in. He sounded great.
In England, last call at most pubs is at 11 PM and all clear out at 11:30. It was a great night of music and heartwarming folk songs.
During our travels we are developing a preference for rural areas such as the Cotswolds. There was tremendous hiking across bucolic farming countryside, warm and welcoming locals not jaded towards tourists, and quaint villages to visit. It was a nice break from cathedrals and museums.
Then back in the Fiat and off to Wales, all the while repeating our U.K. driving mantra, “Stay to the left, stay to the left…”
Next stop, Conwy along the north coast of Wales.