Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stepping Back in Time - The Cotswolds

Slightly northwest of London lays an area called the Cotswolds.  Before the last year, I had never heard of it but the more people I have talked to, the more have said what a gorgeous area this is and an absolute must visit when in England.  The Cotswolds are relatively untouched - with homes dating back hundreds of years made from a golden limestone.  The homes, many of which still have thatch roofs, glisten in the sun with their stone facades.  It's absolutely beautiful and the more I heard of it, the more I realized, I must go!

When planning this trip, we knew that we wouldn't need three days in Legoland.  And Josh was already going to London this month to see the Patriots play.  So after looking at google maps and doing some recognizance with friends to figure out where specifically are the best areas of the Cotswolds, we decided to make that a part of our long weekend.

Friends of ours had suggested Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden as two great towns in the Cotswolds.  The first because it is fairly centrally located and is slightly larger than many of the towns which meant easier access for hotels, food, etc.  And the latter because it is known as one of the most charming villages in the Cotswolds, conveniently only about a 20 minute drive from Stow-on-the-Wold.

The drive to Stow-on-the-Wold was about 1 1/2 hours from Windsor.  With puke bags at the ready for pukey child, we were on our way!  I had plans for us to drop off our bags at the hotel and then head straight to Chipping Campden to do a 4 mile loop of the Cotswolds Way.  The Cotswolds Way is a national trail that leads from Chipping Campden to the town of Bath, about 100 miles south.  And since we weren't going to be doing the full 100 while in town for a day, we decided to do a loop that was suggested on the Cotwolds Way website.

However, as with all good plans, something must mess them up.  Right?  We were probably 30 minutes away from Stow-on-the-Wold when Aidan started to complain about a headache.  He is often headachy so I didn't make a huge deal of it (and yes I've had his eyes tested).  But then he told me he thought he was going to throw up.  Since he's 8, I handed him the bag and left him to his own devices.  Nothing happened.  But then... he decided he really didn't feel well so I suggested to Josh that he pull over into a parking lot up ahead.  As Josh pulled in, I threw myself out the door and whipped open Aidan's door to drag him out...only he turned his head...the wrong way.  And puked in the car.  Yup, we can never win with this puking thing (the good news is that this was a puke free tree for Liam - woo hoo!!).

Somehow I wasn't prepared for class and had no wipes on me or anything... just three tissues that did nothing.  So the kids and I huddled in the cold (mind you, cold is about 55 degrees - though that's dead of winter here in Barcelona) while I sent Josh in the car to a nearby gas station to pick up some diaper wipes and paper towels since we really couldn't put the kids back in the car the way it was.  Always an adventure with us when we travel!!

Puke free child taking in the sights

Not feeling so hot...

Finally back on the road we started driving through picturesque little towns with homes made of golden stones, quaint little shops lining the streets, all of which gave you the feeling of stepping back in time for just a moment.  We passed tons of farms, rolling hills, sheep, cows and at times drove through patches of woods where the trees cascaded over the road like a covered bridge.

As we approach a village

Drive by shot

Another drive by

Center of town

Leaving town already

Some of the rolling hills taken as we drove

We arrived in Stow-on-the-Wold and I could not picture a more beautiful little town.  The center made up of more of these golden buildings, old mixed with new in certain cases and it was hard to tell which was which.  Josh and I both loved the fact that builders here stick with tradition and even with new construction, the golden limestone is still the primary building block.

Our hotel was right smack in the middle of the square which was perfect.  Later, after returning from Chipping Campden, we had a chance to do more exploring there as well.  The hotel was, charming... ok, it could have used some renovating.  But the owners were gracious hosts and were willing to meet whatever needs we had and for that I can forgive the need for decorations from sometime after 1970.  But the woodbeam ceilings and crooked walls, those to me were a part of the charm of what apparently was a historically old building.  Our room was interesting.  A family room, we had beautiful wood beams in the ceiling and a floor that dipped about 20 degrees in one direction and a bathroom that dipped probably 40 degrees in a different one.  Interesting.  But it worked and it was only for one night.  We had dinner there that night and once again, the staff was courteous and accommodating and the food, delicious.

Our hotel, the Old Stocks is in this square

Part of the center of Stow-on-the-Wold

More of the square in Stow-on-the-Wold

Church in the center

So I've gotten sidetracked.  With pukey child in tow, we headed off to Chipping Campden for our 4 mile walk through nature.  When planning this trip I was so excited about the idea of spending time outdoors with the boys somewhere other than in a concrete jungle.  The idea of fields of grass, rolling hills and trees was incredibly appealing.

We got to Chipping Campden and if I thought that Stow-on-the-Wold was beautiful, well, this just went above and beyond.  The homes were even more quaint though there were certainly areas of town that were just reeking money in the magnificence of their homes.  I want to live here.  The town was filled with quaint pubs and shops and the sight just warms you from head to toe.  There was an old marketplace that dated back to around the 17th century that's still standing (no longer in use but the structure is still there).
Stunning house in Chipping Campden as we enter town

Nope, no money here...

Center of town in Chipping Campden

More of town

Union Jack flying above town

Marketplace that was being used for their Sat market

More of town

Super old market no longer in use.  Dates back to 1627...

Another view of the market

The main road

Liam being goofy with Josh

Church in the background

Heading to lunch

Fascinated by the flowers

As it was getting close to lunch time we decided to have something to eat before setting off on our walk.  There were a number of cute little pubs and restaurants along the way.  Hunger was quickly setting in though and so we chose the Lygon Arms.  We walked in and were the only people in there.  Normally I take this as a bad sign - no customers means the food probably isn't that great.  But while the upholstery needed some updating, there was a beautiful wooden bar and a fire in the fireplace surrounded by stone.  We plunked ourselves down in a banquet near the fire and looked over the menu which looked quite appetizing and in fact, it was our best meal while in England.  With cheese toasties (OMG amazing!), fried brie with grape chutney, and a potato leek soup, lunch was spectacular.

A real fire in a real fireplace... oh how I've missed that!!!

Soooo not feeling good... poor little guy

Drinking his water via his fingers... classy

Playing Brave on Josh's iphone

Where we had lunch :)

Unfortunately Aidan still wasn't feeling well so after lunch we still decided to embark on our walk but with the knowledge that likely we weren't going to make it the full 4 miles that we had intended (and nor did we make it that far, I'd be shocked if we made it 2 miles).

We found the walk pretty quickly and started our incline up to the top of Dover Hill which had the best views in town.  Both children, of course, complained about walking uphill.  I reminded them that we live in a city that is situated on a hill and that they walk uphill daily.  And they reminded me that there is a difference between walking in the city and the country.  Have my children gone city on me????  Nooo!!!!!

Heading to the Cotswold Way

Hmmm which way to go???  (actually it was the side with the small arrow since that was the loop route)

Pretty church, moody, sick child

Well marked trails

The first part of the walk took us through a beautiful neighborhood, I'm sure the people love all the tourists walking through their 'hood...

And on their lawns...

Another sign

Now getting more onto the trail

Checking out the sheep

Liam"why are the sheep marked with colors?"  Me "so that you can tell who owns them in case one gets away, for example maybe the Marcus family owns the ones with the green"  Liam "you mean we own all these sheep?  Can we take them home with us?  I think I can fit at least 3 in my bedroom".  Ahhh Liam...

Looking downhill towards the sheep and the valley

And upward climb ahead

Liam in the rear as always

Waiting patiently for the rest of us

The view from where Aidan was sitting

These are from the top of Dover Hill

Josh and Liam taking pictures

Some kind of ninja move

Rain heading our way (missed us)

More rain

So we had to go through a double gate to get into this field because apparently animals also graze here... insert note - animals also poop here, a lot.

Liam playing the "don't step in the poop" game

Cool wall where we turned around (because apparently Josh and Aidan already had but didn't tell us)

Running to catch up to Josh and Aidan

Dr Who telephone booth!!

So while our walk wasn't what I had intended, it definitely gave me the feel for what it's like in this area and it's definitely a place I'd like to go back to.  Actually if I can rally anyone to go, I'd love to do the entire Cotswolds Way this spring - from Chipping Campden to Bath.  Anyone???  

We headed back to the hotel after that to chill out and enjoy town and then dinner.  While the day didn't go totally as we had hoped, it was still a successful and enjoyable time out in the country with the fam.  But wait til you see our adventures from our final day in England... stay tuned!

Our hotel room, not so luxurious but definitely historic!

Liam reading his English version of the story of Sant Jordi (Saint George) one of his favorites

I don't think I've ever in my life seen a restaurant this old - over 1000 years old!!!!

Another Dr Who booth, this time Josh just had to stop in!


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