Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Spring 2005 - Southern England - One Week in the Cotswolds
April 29 - May 29, 2005: Four weeks in England
One week in Minchinhampton, in the southern Cotswolds.
Saturday May 14, Moving to Minchinhampton
Weather: Overcast and cooler.
We packed up and left the cottage in Somerset by 10am. We had a nice goodbye chat with John and he gave us a lovely postcard from the V&A in London where he had been on Thursday - a reproduction of an old photo of a Navajo Indian! A reminder of our home. We agreed that I will put up a page on the site about his Line Wood Walk using the information in the brochure and the photos I took. (See Somerset Line Wood Walk.)
We took the M5 from Taunton north to the M4 then, just north of Bath, took the Bath-Stroud road up to our next rental. Again, it took about an hour longer than we thought it would. We stopped once at a rest area and had coffee, but that did not take long. We arrived in Minchinhampton around noon.
The streets into the center of town are very narrow; only one car can pass at a time. We found the market square and parked a couple of blocks from the house (there were no free spots on the road where the cottage is located - this changed after the weekend, when the visitors left). We had a code for a lockbox for the key, but we could not get it open. I left Steve standing there with our luggage while I went off to find a phone booth (because our cell phone did not get reception anywhere in town). I phoned the contact for the house, but she was not home. I spoke to her daughter, tried her on her cell phone (no answer), spoke to her daughter again and finally thought to call Rural Retreats (should have done this first). The code I had was one digit off.
About our Cottage - Acorn Cottage
We booked Acorn Cottage from Rural Retreats (2bed/1bath row house). 610 ($1140) per week, $162/night.
Vacation Rental Review 1459: My review of Rural Retreats, Acorn Cottage
I wanted to stay in the southern Cotswolds, near Tetbury or Malmesbury, and searched online but could not find a place that looked good and had a phone, so we decided to splurge and book a Rural Retreats place. We booked directly with Rural Retreats instead of using a US representative because we knew which places we wanted to consider, and only needed to know which ones had phones.
We know this area well (spent a month in Painswick in 2000). Jonathan, one of the message board moderators, lives nearby in Stroud. Minchinhampton is a pretty town on the top of a plateau and at the edge of a large public commons, that is like a hilltop moor.
Acorn Cottage: Steve in front of our cottage door
After we got our things into the cottage, we went to a tea room on the Market Square for a lovely lunch (just a block away). The tea room is "The Kitchen" and became our favorite place in town. After lunch we drove to Waitrose in Stroud for some groceries (10 minute drive).
Jonathan, a moderator on the message board, lives in Stroud. Unfortunately, the week we picked to stay nearby was a very busy work week for him, so we were only going to get to see him and Philippa one night for dinner. But, Jonathan was singing with a choir in a nearby town on the Saturday that we arrived, so we went to the concert. The performance was "Springtime of the Year - Choral and instrumental music by The Cappella Singers, musical director Philip Colls".
Jonathan and Philippa were both part of this group for many years, but no longer sing with them regularly. Jonathan was joining them just for this performance in the France Lynch Church. (A side note: When Jonathan was telling me the name of the town "France Lynch" on the phone, I heard "Florence Lynch". Jonathan said "France, like the country"; I said "You mean Florence, like the city". It was only our knowledge of geography that saved us.)
France Lynch is only 10 minutes drive from Minch (this is what the locals call Minchinhampton), but it was not on any of the detailed maps that I had. I finally found it on a hiking map. It is in the hills above Chagford. We drove to Chagford and then followed signs to France Lynch, but it is only because of a very friendly woman walking her dog who gave us excellent directions that we managed to locate the church. We got there a few minutes before 7:00pm, when the performance was starting, and got to say a quick hello to Jonathan as the group gathered in the churchyard to make their entrance.
The performance was a fund raiser for the church (7.00 each, including wine) and it was nearly sold out. The church was smallish and old. The village is very beautiful, full of old stone houses and narrow lanes and perched on the top of a hill.
The performance was magnificent. I really enjoyed it and Steve, who knows and appreciates music much more than me, loved it too. The voices filled the church, the songs were beautiful, the singing perfect. They sang a series of songs, from old German songs, to old English songs, to show tunes (they ended with "Secret Love" from Calamity Jane). There were some very amusing bits as well. Three poems were recited. One was "Daffodils" by Wordsworth. Then "Les Daffodils par William Wordsworth" by Miles Kington, a hilarious poem in pidgin French about going to the Lakes District and seeing Wordsworth everywhere.
My favorite was "Just in Case" by Charlotte Mitchell, which was a very funny poem about packing for a weekend in the country and what clothes to take. They start out planning to take very little, but end up taking many extra things "just in case". The only reference I can find online is on a message board: Just In Case, Charlotte Mitchell, 1926.
The performance ended about 9:00pm and we went home and had a light supper.
Cell Phones in the Cotswolds
Cell phones do not work well in many places in the Cotswolds. When we checked into the cottage, we saw the coin box phone and realized we were not going to have Internet access (there is no place to plug in the phone cord - you cannot bypass the coin box - more about this later). Since our Virgin SIM card did not get reception, we decided to go into Stroud and get a new SIM card.
We went to a phone store (Phones 4 U) and bought a Vodaphone SIM card. I did not try it immediately, but put the card in while having coffee later. The phone would not work and just said "SIM Error". We went back to the store and it turned out that none of their Vodaphone SIM cards worked; they had been sent a batch of un-registered SIM cards. So we tried Orange. We were told by Rural Retreats that Orange works well in the Cotswolds and the guys at the store said Orange or Vodaphone were best.
For Vodaphone all we did was pay 9.95 for the SIM card (it comes with 1.00 of calling time) and then 20.00 "top up" - money added to the account. With Orange I had to speak to someone on the phone, give them my name, a UK address and date of birth. I gave them my name, the address of the house we are renting for the week, and an invented DOB. No one at the store checked any ID.
Sunday May 15, Sunday Lunch at The Bell in Sapperton
Weather: Sunny and warm
We had intended to do a walk today but ended up driving around the countryside, exploring the nearby towns and having a lovely Sunday lunch.
First we drove down to Nailsworth, to have a good look at the town. We parked and walked all around, seeing what is there. Nailsworth is an odd town. It has a busy road running through the middle of it, so does not have that nice "village" feel that most place here have. We did not see anything interesting open for lunch, so we decided to drive to Sapperton, a small town of the road between Stroud and Cirencester, where I had read there was a good pub. It was only 15 minutes away.
We got to The Bell in Sapperton just before 1:00pm and all the tables inside were occupied or reserved. Because the day was sunny and warm, people were also eating at tables outside. As I was discussing the situation with the barman, a guy came up to pay his bill and said we could have his outside table, so we ended up with a lovely table on the terrace. Within the next 30 minutes, many more people arrived and ended up taking their meals sitting on benches or asking to share tables. This is a popular place!
The Bell at Sapperton, Sunday lunch, view from our table
The food was very good. We both started with a very good soup; sweet potato and pear I think (but I am getting all our wonderful soups mixed up and am writing this several days later). Then I had pasta with wild mushrooms and Steve had sea bass. We both had half pints; I had cider, Steve had ale. The cost of the meal was 38.90; expensive, but the food was good and the location lovely. It was nice to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine.
We were going to do the Sapperton walk (we did it years ago and loved it), but after our big lunch we felt lazy, so we drove back to Minch and rested for a bit. Then we went out again to explore Tetbury, just south of us. We had been there in 2000 and went to a fabulous tea room, but this time it was closed. So we walked around town and ended up having tea and scones at The Snooty Fox, the old hotel on the Market Place. The town was very quiet. Some of the antiques stores were open, but there were not many people about. (We returned later in the week and had an excellent tea at the tea room).
On our last night in Somerset, I watch Part 1 of the BBC production of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility". Big mistake. Even though I know the story and have seen the Hollywood movie and read the book more than once, I had to remind myself how it ended. I had brought a small copy of the book with me, so I found the point where Part 1 ended and read on from there. This pretty much absorbed me for Sunday night and much of Monday. When I wasn't reading, I was making Steve listen to the details of the story (he has read it too, but needed a refresher - sometimes the plots from all her books run together and you forget who marries who in the end!). At the end of a Jane Austen, Steve always says "Thank goodness, they all married well!!"
Note to self: Do NOT read Jane Austen while traveling.
Monday May 16, Minchinhampton Commons and a Tea Room
Weather: Overcast and cool.
I screwed up our reservation for this week. I thought I had requested an Internet connection, but it was not on the reservation (and I should have checked). Rural Retreats tried to sort it out this morning, but there is a locked telephone box and no one can find the key. Our cell phone does not get reception in the cottage (Virgin) and we bought an Orange SIM card that does not get reception. We are left with a pay phone in the cottage, that we can use to make and receive calls, but not to connect to the internet.
At one point we had to get email, so we drove the car to a spot just outside the village where we got cell reception, and connected to the Internet via our cell phone at - get this - 9.6kbps, which translates to REALLY REALLY SLOW. A slow phone connection is 44.0kbps. Anyway, it worked! We got our email and I even when on the message board. But we must have looked odd, both sitting in the car with our notebooks and a cell phone propped up on the dash.
When I had originally booked with Rural Retreats, they knew I needed a place where we could use the phone to connect to the internet, but by the time my request made it to the booking person, this had not been noted. When I got the booking form I should have noticed there was no request for Internet, but I didn't. With Rural Retreats, if there is a phone in a cottage, it is a coin box phone and they have to reconfigure it to make it a regular phone. Never assume, as I did, that if they say you can have Internet access from a property, that there is no more that you have to do. You must request it, pay a 20 service charge and a deposit, and they have the phone box unlocked.
So, what we had for communications, in our 18th century cottage, was one coin box phone that seemed to eat money. Dial the phone, dump in a 20p coin when the party answers, then watch the pennies count down. Using our long distance phone card is better and those pennies seem to last forever. I have made several calls and we still have more than 5.00 on the card (which was a 5.00 card to begin with - there must have been bonus minutes). Oh, and the coin box phone is in a corner of the room where there is no place to sit and not much standing room either.
I called Rural Retreats on the weekend and they could not do anything until Monday. I called them on Monday and they were very good to deal with. They did not even mention that I should have checked the booking form, they just dealt with the situation and eventually we got our phone access.
You may wonder why all this fuss for an Internet connection while we travel. Normally we go to Europe in September/October. Steve's business is software for school scheduling. Once school opens, his software is no longer used, so we do not have to be on daily email. But during scheduling season (January to August), we have to be on email. Schools request evaluation versions of the software (via our website) and I email the download information to them. Sales people and schools email with questions that Steve has to answer. We really wanted to do a spring trip to England this year and we knew we would have to work a couple of hours each night, but we felt it would be worth it to be able to do the trip. I also like to keep in touch with Slow Travel things while we travel.
Around noon on Monday we ALMOST got connected. Up in the attic room is a phone connection, but it has a plastic lock box around it. You need a key to unlock it and open it for access to the phone socket. The owner said the key was in one of two possible places in the house, but we could not find it. The housekeeper had a mystery key on her bunch of keys, so came over to try that. No luck. She contacted the owner again to see if they have the key and could they mail it from London (we would get it the next day). We spent the morning on the phone and fiddling with the locked phone box.
In the afternoon we went to walk on the Minchinhampton Commons. We expected to love walking on the commons, but we did not really like it. We followed a walk from one of our hiking books, and the first part was nice, but then you had to walk across a golf course and we did not want to (people were playing). I really, really hate golf and it is such a shame seeing a golf course on these beautiful commons. Outside of the golf course, the grass is wild and the ground uneven. On the golf course, most likely with the help of massive amounts of chemicals, the grass is flat and perfect. We will explore the commons more before we leave, but today we gave up on the hike and walked back along the village roads.
In 1988, when we spent five months in England, we drove into Minchinhampton and stopped at an intersection on the commons. A horse, roaming free, walked over and stuck his head in our open car window. Whenever we talk about Minchinhampton, we always say "the town with the horses". We have not seen any horses roaming free on the commons on this trip (yet).
We went to The Kitchen in Minch for "tea for two" and cake. I had Blackwell Cake (made with almonds); Steve had Lemon Drizzle - and it was the best cake of the trip. We will have to go there again!
When we were coming back from tea, we were standing in the street looking at our cottage and comparing it to the ones on either side. I noticed another couple doing the same thing, so I started talking to them. It turned out that their son had owned the cottage until two years ago. We invited them in and he showed us all the renovations he and his son had done. The couple lives in Canada, but their son is in England. Interesting bit of timing that we were both outside the cottage at the same time.
For dinner tonight we had fish and chips from the shop around the corner. It is always fun going to the local fish and chips shop and this was no exception. I like watching everyone order, and watching the people in the shop wrap up the orders. They always pour the chips onto the paper, then pick up the vinegar jar and ask if you want salt and vinegar, then shake on the vinegar, then shake on the salt, then do this detailed wrapping of the chips. I am not describing it well, but it is really fun to watch. And then you get to eat them. The next day my lips always feel like "bad oil", but it is worth it.
After dinner I called the housekeeper to see if anything had been figured out. The owner said if we could not find the key in the places where they thought it was, then the key was lost and I should bash open the box! I had my doubts about this, but I took a hammer to the plastic cover and bashed a whole in it and - voila - we had a phone connection. Much joy in the cottage and getting of email.
Gaining access to the Internet
Tuesday May 17, The Perfect Day
Weather: Sunny and warm. Clouds moved in late afternoon.
A perfect day!! Slept late (wonderful), woke up to sunshine (wonderful), went on the perfect 2.5 hour walk from Uley (wonderful), went for tea (could have been better), toured Owlpen Manor (wonderful). Home to veg out in front of British TV (wonderful). That is 5 out of 6 wonderfuls.
We rented this cottage, Acorn Cottage, from Rural Retreats. It is about twice the price of our last place and our next place (from Helpful Holidays), but there are good reasons for this. Rural Retreats in general has more expensive listings, but this is a house in a town, not a cottage on a farm, and that is always more expensive. Plus this is a very expensive area for real estate, so that is passed down in the rental price.
We are really settling into this cottage. There are things that are not perfect: all the stairs (and my knee picked this week to hurt), the ceilings in the living room are very low (do not stay here if you are over 6 foot tall), the bedroom is really small and I keep bumping into the bedpost, it is a bit dark (being a row house, there are only windows front and back), the small backyard gets sun only for a few minutes at noon. But there are many things that are perfect: the location in the town (just off the village square with grocery shops, tea room, restaurants a few steps away), the town (Minchinhampton is cute beyond belief), the commons (the town is surrounded by 570 acres of open space owned by the National Trust), the nearby towns (lots of towns within 10 minutes drive), the great shower and the great bathtub, the kitchen is really nice to use, there is a big comfy couch, the cottage is well heated and very comfortable.
Acorn Cottage: Small living room with a door right onto the street and low ceilings, but it is warm and cozy and very comfortable.
Uley Bury - Cam Long Down Hike, Goldeneye, 4 miles, 2.5 hours
We slept late (I feel like I am finally catching up on missed sleep), had toast and coffee at home, then drove out to do a walk. Because the day was so nice, I picked a walk with big views. We drove to Uley, about 15 minutes to the west, and parked outside of town near the Uley Bury to do the Uley Bury Walk from the Goldeneye hikes. It was a four mile walk but had two big climbs, so it took us 2.5 hours (which was the time listed for the walk). Walking here is like a treasure hunt. You have your walking guidebook with all the clues for the hike. You have to follows the clues and maps carefully to find the way (which is the treasure).
Today's hike was one of the best we have ever done. The day was perfect and the views were wonderful - at one point we could see in all directions from Stroud and the hills beyond to the north to Dursley and Bristol to the south, from the River Severn and the hills in Wales to the west, to the hills of the southern Cotswolds to the east. The woods were beautiful and full of garlic flowers. At one point we were overcome by the scent of Lemon Pledge (I have not used that stuff in 30 years, but I still remember how it smells). Either there was some kind of lemon plant, or everyone in the nearby village was dusting.
It was one of those perfect hikes, when it was a total pleasure to just be outside and walking.
Uley Bury hike
The photo above was taken from the valley looking up to Cam Long Down. We would climb up that hill, walk along it, down the other side, up and down another hill, back along the valley and up a last hill to where we started.
Uley Bury hike
The photo above was taken from part way up Cam Long Down looking back at where we had walked so far (marked in red).
After the hike, we drove over to Owlpen Manor, where we knew there was a restaurant and tea room from our last trip. There was a tour bus in the parking lot and the restaurant was full of very old people having tea. They had just all seen the Owlpen Manor. We had a mediocre tea, but it tasted fine because we were hungry (we had missed lunch time while walking). Then we went into Owlpen. We did not go in the last time we were there, going for a walk instead, but this time I really wanted to see the house.
Looking from our walk on Uley Bury towards the village of Uley and Owlpen beyond
We do not spend much time on our trips visiting houses and gardens as a little seems to go a long way with us, but this one was well worth visiting. It is not a National Trust house, but is privately owned and the family still lives there! They open the house to the public three days a week. Only six rooms are open, and the family bedrooms and kitchen are roped off, so you cannot go there. One of the people working there told us the family stays in the kitchen or in an upstairs study while the house is open.
Owlpen is a Tudor Manor, built between 1450 and 1720. It is much like it was when it was built because nothing was changed until 1926. It is situated in a beautiful valley, just outside of the village of Uley. They also offer vacation rentals www.owlpen.com.
As you walk around the house, you see the belongings of the current owners; old things and new things. Family photos from long ago and recent ones. Furniture that is hundreds of years old and a pile of DVDs.
The most amazing things in the house are the painted cloths in the Queen Margaret's Room (upstairs). They were painted in the 1500's and look like tapestries (but tapestries are woven, this is material that was painted). The scenes are from the bible; stories of Joseph and his brothers. The clothes covered three walls and were beautiful.
We walked around the lovely gardens, then left and drove home. Spent the evening at home. I am watching a great TV show (in three parts, one each week) called "Life Isn't All Ha Ha, Hee Hee", about three women from an Indian family who grow up together in London.
Wednesday May 18, Ozleworth Park Hike
Weather: Sunny and overcast, back and forth, today. No rain. Cooler. Wore our Polartec vests when walking.
Today we had breakfast at The Kitchen in Minch. We had lunch there on Saturday when we arrived and tea and cake on Monday after walking around the commons. It is a lovely tea room, not run by a husband and wife (as is frequently the case), but run by several women. I counted five people working there this morning, and it only has about ten tables, in two rooms. The food is excellent and the service is very good and friendly. Their cake is the best we have had on the trip.
In the mornings from 9:00am when they open, until 11:00am, they have a breakfast menu. They have a "full English" (eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.), poached eggs on toast, bacon sandwich (a very popular item in England, I have seen signs for them on vans in lay-bys - people must stop and get a bacon sandwich while on the road), croissant, etc. We had poached eggs on toast and coffee. Even the coffee was good. Expensive though; about 14.00 for breakfast for two (two coffees each).
It is nice being in a town again, like when we stayed in Winchcombe last September. In the morning we just walk around the corner to get a newspaper. In the evening, I can pick up groceries at the local shop. We have not been to the Waitrose since the day we arrived (I have reached my limit on eating their prepared meals and am back to cooking rice and vegetables for us most nights).
Ozleworth Hike, Goldeneye, 5 miles, 2.5 hours
Today we drove back to the area where we were yesterday, but went to Ozleworth Park to do a walk there. The walk takes you past Ozleworth Manor and into the park. Then you walk down to the bottom of the valley to an area called Ozleworth Bottoms.
Like yesterday, this hike was exceptional, but we lost the trail about half way through the hike. I am not sure what we did wrong, or where the trail might have been, but we could not find it. We ended up doing a good 2.5 hour hike. Some of the fields of garlic flowers and bluebells were beautiful.
Garlic flowers in Ozleworth Bottom
A Few Notes
Thursday May 19, we did nothing today
Weather: Overcast for most of the day. It rained last night.
Today we did nothing. Out for breakfast at The Kitchen. Introduced ourselves to the owner, told them about Slow Travel and took some photos for the website. Had a nice breakfast. Steve spent the day working and I got caught up on a bit of work and my blog. Back to The Kitchen for afternoon tea. Wrote some postcards and mailed them.
Called the key keeper of our next rental and she said we can arrive any time after 1:00pm which means we don't have to spend the day with our luggage and computers in the car.
Drove into Stroud around 6:00pm to do some shopping at Waitrose. Phoned Jonathan from the parking lot to make him guess where we were (he guessed). Had a nice simple dinner at home (vegetables, rice, Quorn veggie cutlet).
A day off from the hectic pace of traveling (okay, it hasn't been a hectic pace - but still you need a day off from time to time).
Friday May 19, Sapperton Hike and Lunch
Weather: Overcast, some rain in the afternoon.
Sapperton - Golden Valley Hike, from Goldeneye, 4.25 miles, 2.5 hours
Today we did the hike from Sapperton (the town where we had Sunday lunch). We did this hike in spring 2000 and one of the photos from the hike was on the homepage of the slowtrav.com website for a few years. I wanted to find the place in the woods where we took that photo and take it again (I did - it is now on the home page header).
Sapperton is a beautiful village and the hike starts in the village, goes through fields to an abandoned canal (Thames & Severn Canal), along the canal, up through woods and around to the village again.
At one point in the woods, towards the end of the hike, I was fussing with my rain jacket (it has started to rain) and Steve was eye to eye with a fox on the trail. By the time I looked up, it was gone. Steve saw several foxes on this trip and I missed them all!
It started to rain heavily by the end of the hike and we got wet and muddy. We went to the pub (The Bell) for a light lunch. We were dripping water, but they didn't mind. We left our rain jackets by the door, went in with our wet hiking boots and packs. We picked a table away from everyone else because we looked such wrecks! Had a lovely lunch, then drove back to Minch and packed up to leave the next day.
That last night in Minch we had a lovely dinner with Jonathan and Philippa. They came to Minch to see the cottage, then we all drove down to Nailsworth in their car and had dinner at the Mad Hatter. We had eaten there on the 2004 trip and enjoyed the restaurant and the food. This time the food was also very good. There was a happy and noisy group in the other room, a party of some type for a group of mostly elderly women. When they left, the owner came over and told us it was her mother - getting remarried in her 70s (I think). This was the pre-wedding party. It was fun to see how happy they all were. Jonathan and Philippa drove us back to the cottage.
This is where the sad part of the trip happens (I won't keep you in suspense, our lovely cat Butch died the next week). I was sad to leave the Cotswolds, which I love, sad to leave Jonathan and Philippa, we had such a nice time with them, and we had a call from our house sitter saying that our cat Butch was not well. She took him to the vet and they gave him some antibiotics thinking he had some infection. Our cats Butch and Spike, brothers from the same litter, were 14 years old. Spike was in good health, but Butch had been a bit poorly the past six months. He had to take medicine for his kidneys, which were not good. He was still active and happy, but had slowed down a bit.
>> continued - a week in Devon
Minchinhampton (Minch) is a great Cotswolds town in the less touristed part of the southern Cotswolds. It is south of Stroud and sits on the edges of the Minchinhampton commons above the Nailsworth Valley. Minch is small, with most shops on the Market Square or just off the Square on Tetbury Street. There is a butcher, two food shops (with fresh vegetables, newspapers, magazines, some other food things), a pub (The Crown Inn), a tearoom (The Kitchen), a couple of restaurants, a Fish and Chips shop, a real estate agent, a post office, and a couple of antique shops.
Minch is a few minutes from Nailsworth, a larger town with several restaurants and more shops. In the other direction it is only a few minutes from Stroud with three supermarkets (Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury's), a big High Street full of shops (no Marks and Spenser), a natural foods store, two or more natural foods restaurants, book shops, etc. It is only 15 minutes from Cirencester, another large town with supermarkets and lots of shops. The largest close by towns are Cheltenham and Gloucester to the north and Bath to the south.
The Minchinhampton Commons are over 500 acres of open land and woodlands owned by the National Trust.
The Kitchen - Cafe and Tearoom
The Bell at Sapperton, Free House
The Snooty Fox
The Mad Hatter
Other recommended restaurants that we did not get to are:
Slow Travel Photos: My photos of Minchinhampton, in the Cotswolds
Vacation Rental Review 1459: My review of Rural Retreats, Acorn Cottage
Slow Travel Photos: My photos of the house we rented in Minchinhampton
www.foodatthebell.co.uk: The Bell in Sapperton, pub with good meals
www.nailsworth.com: The Unofficial site for Nailsworth
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