When our daughter Lauren informed us that she would be spending the entire summer in England, messing about with horses it didn’t take us long to change our August vacation plans to include a visit with her. Bart and I had never been “across the pond” and really didn’t know quite what to expect. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to see, having watched countless episodes of “All Creatures Great and Small” and “Downton Abbey”. But what is it REALLY like?
We flew into Heathrow and rented a car. Bart thought it would be fun to get a manual transmission (!) and when the company upgraded us to a boat just-shy-of-a-mini-van we said,”Sure. Why not?” So we pull out of the rental lot, driving on the right and shifting on the left, dealing with airport traffic on very little sleep and 5 hours of jet lag! But, we survived and within an hour we were in the countryside. Our destination was a small town called Chedworth and the GPS did a fine job getting us there. We caught up with Lauren at the barn and got a quick tour before we headed off to our B&B just down the road. Just about every building in the area is made of stone and is at least 200 years old. Narrow (more about that later) roads wind between hedges and walls and old villages pop up where you least expect them. We pulled into the yard at “Wolds Cottage” and were greeted by our hosts, Jane and Mark. Their house is adorable! A 1790s stone cottage with a yard that looks out over the fields to stonewalls and hedges. I could just imagine the foxhunt galloping across the landscape! There are immaculate gardens, a tiny pond, and the coziest dining/kitchen ever. We settled in, then headed out to our first of many pubs to join Lauren and dig into our first plate of fish and chips! When we got back to Jane and Mark’s (I don’t know what we were running on at that point) we were invited to join their dinner guests for some late night wine and chat. A very interesting conversation ensued. It was eye-opening to see the Britts’ interpretation of our political situation. We felt so at home right from the get go, we knew it was going to be a hard place to leave!
Bart and I spent lots of time hiking around in the Cotwolds. There are “public footpaths” everywhere and you just park your car just about anywhere and hike off into the bushes! We explored Roman ruins, old stone churches, quaint stone villages. Everywhere we went was postcard perfect. Pinch me. Is this real? Lauren joined us for two days of traveling around. We went to the New Forest, where ponies roam wild and force drivers to stop and wait, to the south shore at Lymington, where we splashed in the Atlantic WAY over there, and visited Oxford, where you feel like you’re in the midst of a Harry Potter movie! We hiked out to the White Horse of Uffington, a limestone “drawing” of a running horse, carved into a hillside, dating back to 3000 years ago! We also toured a castle where Henry the VIII’s last wife is buried and we took in an outdoor theater performance of an Oliver Goldsmith play. Phew! I need a vacation now!
I mentioned the “narrow” roads… Our car was a full size vehicle (as Lauren said, we should be toting around the entire soccer team) and we ventured places not served by highways. That said, there were many very scary moments as we rambled down teeny tiny roads with 7 foot hedges and NO visibility. “Some people honk to let them know you’re coming around the curves,” Lauren advised. Yikes! Sitting on the left side of the car, Bart put me into the bushes more times than not, as a car would come the other way and not even slow down to pass us! Their way of getting horses around is SO different too. With those narrow, winding roads and small barnyards, the vehicles are narrow, 2-horse trailers, pulled by small SUVs. The fancy people have lorries, where the horse are piled into a tall van and ride right behind the driver! I wouldn’t have been able to get my pick up and gooseneck rig out of the barn driveway, let alone down the road!
We had the best time. Fantastic hosts, beautiful scenery, a great visit with Lauren, fun with history and lots of walking. Just the way a vacation should be! Here are a few photos of our journey. Enjoy!