Heading for the Cotswolds
“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”
I’ve wanted to hike over England’s cliffs and fields for years – full days of hiking (but ending up in some lovely B&Bs – no camping for me!) in some of the most beautiful countryside on the face of the earth. I was lucky to find a friend who also wanted to spend time hiking the back roads and cliffs of Cornwall (which I had visited before). But I had never been to the Cotswolds and Diane knew it well. So off we set….
Arriving at Gatwick right on time, Diane is waving madly across the baggage. Nice to see a familiar face! Our first stop on this particular journey is the Cotswolds. We pick up the rental car, and we are on our merry way to Broadway, a beautiful small town full of atmosphere and charm. On the other side of Broadway in Wilversey, we find Lowerfield Farm, surrounded by quiet fields and country roads. It is a pretty yellow painted two story stone farmhouse, with an appealing landscaped garden. Diane and I are so tired and cold when we arrive, we ask our host if we could get some heat turned on, but she looks rather taken aback: “We don’t turn on the heat until late September!”
The bathroom has a marvelous deep tub – great for warming up. After which, I creep into bed and fall fast asleep. At 4PM, awake and ready to eat, we drive into Broadway. The overcast skies have cleared, and the sun appears. We slowly ramble the street, peering into every shop window – all of which could have been lifted en toto from Dickens – all the golden Cotswolds stone – all hung with ivy and other vines, and surrounded by blooming flowers, from lavendar to double headed pink and purple petunias to bright red geraniums. Broadway is a charming town, full of atmosphere. The people are delightful- and it is not busy (at this time of year, anyway.)
A tiny pub and restaurant called The Horse & Hounds looks inviting, and a young Polish waiter with a long brown ponytail waits on us; he is very sweet. Diane and I share a bruschetta dish (yummy), then it’s on to pasta primavera, finishing off with strawberries and cream (me) and strawberries and custard (Diane)- absolutely wonderfully delicious. Unfortunately, we forget to tip our delightful waiter…
Back at Lowerfield Farm, we find our hosts have turned on the central heat – just for us (primarily me, being a cold-blooded type). Diane plans out our Cotswold Walks – and we are now again in our beds, all warm and cosy for the night with the green fields of the Cotswolds and a profound country silence surrounding us. Note: We have an explosive toilet….
We view the hunt
Up at 7:30, we prepare for breakfast at 8:30: Muesli, cream, coffee, pears from the garden, yoghurt and hot chocolate. As we are in the middle of breakfast, a hunt comes through: we see the masters of the hunt in their brilliant red coats, and the rest dressed in hunting green, with about 20 hounds sprawling across the front lawn. The horses are beautiful! Our next-table neighbors are three delightful ladies, who have bussed in from another Cotswolds town for a few days’ vacation. They told us they spent the night baking in their rooms – someone had turned on the heat! We kept silent.
Bibury, the Swan Hotel, Burford and the Windrush
After breakfast we drive to Bibury to begin our first hike -I am nervous about driving on the left hand side, not to mention the roundabouts. Bibury is a beautiful little Cotswolds village with a river running through it. We park and begin our 6 mile walk through completely entrancing countryside – small woods, rolling hills, tiny streams. The weather is incredible: blue skies, sunshine, warm – we start off in jackets, end up in t-shirts. This walk takes about 2-l/2 hours.
It takes us back into Bibury by a different footpath, where we have lunch at The Swan Hotel, an historic old ivy-covered hotel overlooking the river. Diane has carrot soup, I have chicken tikka and chips! After this repaste, we drive to Burford to begin our second hike, which takes about three hours. All told, we hike about twelve miles today – nice!
This particular hike is through fields of wheat cut for the winter – the imagery is gorgeous…then it’s back roads, and copses, til we reach a narrow river called the Windrush, where we see beautiful white swans.
We walk through companies of cows, sheaves of sheep, and pheasants galore! Then it’s on to Stowe-on-the Wolde, where we have a light dinner (salads with feta cheese and lots of ciabatta bread…)
Back to Lowerfield Farm. It’s dark by this time. The Cotswolds are beautiful, beautiful. I love Broadway and Bibury – beautifully small and lovely villages. I feel really tired tonight — stress and jet lag catching up with me!
Stanton, Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland and Laverton
We are up at 7:30 as usual, and have a big breakfast: Muesli, egg and bacon, coffee. Then it’s on the road for a short drive to Stanton, which is (yet another) beautiful little village. First a word about the weather: it continues to astonish us how incredibly gorgeous it is. The skies have drifts of a few white clouds but the sun is shining madly, and it is 80 degrees. Everyone we meet is incredulous about our splendid weather. It is absolutely refreshing, and to keep it “hikeable” there’s a lovely crisp breeze. At night, the sky is clear as a bell, and the moon is a harvest moon, huge and golden in the black Cotswolds sky.
Anyway: we drive to Stanton and park the car, preparatory for our hike from Stanton to Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland, inadvertently through Laverton and then back to Stanton. I thought Broadway delightful, but for me, these towns are the real thing! What a lovely, lovely hike. We start before 10AM, and finish around 4PM.
Stanton is a completely charming town, and Laverton is absolutely gorgeous: Cotswolds cottages built of the sunny Cotswold stone, beautiful gardens, surrounded by the rolling hills and farmlands of the country.
On the first leg of our hike, we meet a group of about twenty men and women, approximately our ages, led by a local guide. She said the men love to talk to us “young sprigs” and we appreciated the sentiment! This is the leg of the hike that leads up the steepest hill for about 30 minutes, and left me breathing hard (such a wuss). When we arrive at the top, the whole of the Cotswolds lies before us. Pictures I have seen cannot begin to describe the beauty.
We then walk part of the Cotswolds Way, through fields, woods, over many stiles and through many gates. We walk through the enchanting village of Snowshill (in which I will actually stay a few years later) -a Cotswolds gem of a village, tiny and seemingly untouched by tourism: lovely architecture, picturesque homes dripping with flowers and beautifully and personally landscaped. Our companions leave us in Snowshill, where they picnic in the old church graveyard, while Diane and I have a pub lunch – ploughman’s (cheese, bread, pickles). The sun shines brilliantly as we continue over hill and dale.
On a downward trek, we meet a delightful woman named Maury who is in training for a hike for a cancer group, along the Great Wall of China. We have a fun conversation for half an hour, then she wound her way to somewhere else, and we continue through the fields to Stanton. We hope. We aren’t sure where we are parked, so we walk the town and finally ask a friendly old man sitting on a bench beneath a tree: “Where are we?”
It turns out we are actually in Laverton — NOT Stanton — and are given directions to a stile around a corner down a street, turning back into the fields at a tree. Hmm. (Laverton is another village that is a step back in time — totally free of tourists — except us — no crowds, etc.)
We come to Stanton’s church spire, wind back through a farm, and come out to our car parked at the Cricket Club, where a match is taking place. Fun to watch, incomprehensible to figure out! But nice to see those cricket whites once again.
Back in the car, Diane drives to the Broadway Folly, atop a hill, from which we get an astounding view 360 degrees of the Cotswolds. Fabulous!
Then it’s back to our B&B, freshen up and drive to Chipping Camden for dinner and a quick walk down the main street. Great conversation at dinner, despite the fact that Diane is a Republican and I a Democrat! Then it’s back to Lowerfield Farm, and so to bed. We are hoping for more of this supremely gorgeous weather tomorrow, as this is to be our longest hike.
Lower Slaughter, Naunton, Bourton-on-the-Water
7:30 and it’s down to breakfast (the usual fabulous feast) and by 9-ish, we are on the road for Bourton-on-the-Water, where we begin our hike (about ten miles round trip, longer with side trips). We hike through prosperous-looking farms, over farmland, through woods, besides rivers and streams – through Lower Slaughter.
A picnic lunch of crusty rolls, cheese and tomatoes in a field far from anywhere is a nice break. Then it’s on to Upper Slaughter where we stop in a pub for a drink – fabulous, incredible 80 degree weather.
Sky clear as glass. Then it’s on to Naunton, across grassy ridges, through more woods and fields and eventually back to Bourton-on-the-Water.
The day is supremely beautiful. Why I even bother carrying a rain jacket in my backpack I don’t know. I am actually tanning! My arms are brown as a berry. Not that many people are out and about, surprisingly. We see a few – a very few – on the trail, and they are all very pleasant.
Back at Lowerfield Farm. Richard, our host, is a delightful man. We only see him in an apron serving us breakfast, but he is invariably chipper and friendly. His wife, Jane, on the other hand, is very distant! Richard’s all jolly hockey sticks, cheery and pip-pip. I like that…This has been a really lovely four days. Beautiful weather, fascinating hikes where we have seen the “real” Cotswolds – not the tourist towns but real back-in-time tiny hamlets that are truly “old England.”
Dartmoor and the Warren Hill Inn
We leave Lowerfield Farm (sob) and drive to the M-5, all the way to Liskeard (I am driving.) We stop off in Chudleigh for lunch, where Diane takes over the driving. From here it’s on to Dartmoor National Park. I love it!! So wild and desolate and full of sheep and wild ponies. Beautiful. You could imagine Heathcliff and Cathy running across the heather.
The sun shines all day long. At the top of the world in the middle of nowhere on a road through Dartmoor stands the Warren Hill Inn. Here we stop for a drink. It is a little cool out on the moors, so a wood fire is burning in the fireplace, and it is a true old-timey pub atmosphere, deep and dark. We chat for a while with a man who is looking at properties to buy for leasing to visitors. He is very sweet and takes our pictures without a murmur. He is from Bath – incredible crusty accent…
Talland Bay – and Allhays
From Warren Hill, we drive down narrow, then narrower, then even narrower lanes with high hedgerows. Through tiny villages and hamlets we drive and through some of the loveliest countryside (Dorset) which is every bit as delightful as the Cotswolds. We drive all the way to Looe, then we find Allhays on Talland Bay. It is an absolutely beautiful, elegant and charming B&B overlooking the Cornish coast. What a view from our bedroom window – unbelievable!
Allhays is a very lovely B&B off the beaten path <it has since closed>. Situated on Talland Bay, between Looe and Polperro, it’s cream-colored stone outside, with bushes heavy with hydrangeas surrounding it. The interior living room (for guests) has two lovely cream colored, soft chenille sofas, and the whole house has the French touch, with patterned draperies, beautiful pictures, and the woodwork painted in heavy high gloss cream. The carpet is cream bordering on ecru up the stairs. Annie, (one of our hosts, and French), has placed a fresh yellow rose in our lovely bedroom on the second story. The bedroom overlooks the lawn in back which leads to the view of the cliffs and then the sparkling sea.
Our bathroom is the size of a pea.
When we are ready for dinner, Diane cannot find the car keys. After frantically checking the car and the trail back to our room, and looking under the bed, in her backpack and various pockets, they turn up in her purse. Hmmmm.
Onward to dinner in Polperro. Yum-o. The loo has toilet seats of fish embedded in plastic. Back in the car on the way back to Allhays, we miss the turn in the very dark road, drive all the way to Looe and back before we finally find our turn. Talk about two tired girls…
Polperro – a real step back in time
We are up around 7:30 and have a traditional, and delicious, English breakfast in Allhays’ sunlit breakfast room. The room is nothing but windows which look out onto the back “garden” and all the way over the cliffs to the sea. Incredible views. Breakfast includes muesli, yoghurt, homemade bread and jams, etc. Mowgli joins us for breakfast. He wanted to join us in the bedroom last night, but as Diane said “it’s the cat or me!” I had to opt for sharing the room with her! Mowgli is a beautifully marked sealpoint Siamese, sleek as a whistle, and very loving. I didn’t want to put her out (especially as I love her name, straight out of Kipling’s “Kim”) but she seemed to settle down on the landing.
This morning we are setting off on our hike to Polperro (two miles coastal). A fabulous walk – all downhill – along coastal beauty that is almost ethereal. We reach Polperro, and stock up for lunch. Me: Cornish pasty, crusty roll (still uneaten), and a tomato.
I have a banana in my backpack (still uneaten). Diane has grapes and a raisin scone. We wander around Polperro, and I find the Noughts and Crosses Inn – still there after all these years! Jean and Toni (good friends of mine in Houston) honeymooned at this inn 60 years ago. We ramble around and window shop, taking pictures of the harbor, the sun shining brightly on this attractive little fishing village.
Then we are off on our challenging cliff walk from Polperro, round the point, then up and over the fields. The sun is very, very strong, and the sky is clear and deep blue, while the water seen down below is silver blue.
We walk and walk and WALK – mostly uphill – stairs and more stairs – up and up and UP! And then across fields, again uphill, past a deserted barn into a narrow lane, and then on the downhill road to Polperro. We have been walking since 10AM, and it’s now 3 o’clock. I LOVED it.
We arrive in Polperro, have a lemonade (why does the lemonade taste so much better here than at home?) and still have two miles left to go back to Allhays – all uphill and over the cliffs. The coast road back to Allhays is often a narrow lane banked by hedges of brambles, blackberries and ferns. All along the coast these hedges are alive with butterflies, fluttering everywhere, and the hum of the bees. We finally reach Allhays in time for a shower and then out to dinner. Our dinner lasts three hours – we talk non-stop. Then it’s back to Allhays down the dark high hedge-lined lanes. We figure we’ve clocked in about 45-50 miles to date.
Over the hills and far away: Fowey, Bodinnick, Polruan, Mevagissey
Wake up at 7:30 to another glorious day. The view from our bedroom window is stunning. Off we go after our muesli, yoghurt, granary bread (home baked), and Scotch pancakes, to drive to Fowey/Bodinnick, drop off the car and begin a hike around the coast (which is projected to take about three hours.) The cliff walk is not as challenging as yesterday’s, but it is just as beautiful, and a little cooler, although the sun is shining madly.
We walk narrow cliff paths rimmed with blackberry bushes, ferns and brambles; deep lanes lined high with hedgerows; past ancient churches; over fields and streams – the silver sea looks like a mirage –incredibly clear, incredibly beautiful under the sun, and stretching for miles and miles.
We have eaten a good breakfast, and aren’t hungry, until we come back around through Polruan, where we stop for a quick bite. It is very interesting and odd that we meet yet again – for the third time – a man we had first met yesterday leaving Polperro for the long hike. We met him again on the way back to Polperro, and now again in Fowey…small world!
Fowey (pronounced Foy) is a pretty town. Lots of people are out and about, as they are in Polperro, which is the quintessential fishermen’s village: houses hang from the cliffs, steep, steep lanes and roads everywhere, flower boxes on every possible wall, door, corner, eave, restaurant front – the ever-present sea breeze cooling us off – and the seagulls squawking. We are not supposed to feed the seagulls. They’re “dirty” and “dangerous” birds, according to one old-timer. One bird even has a “Wanted” poster – full face, left and right profile…
The Fowey/Polruan hike is great – weather, sunshine, paths, views, length of hike and nice people everywhere. “Where are you from?” is the ubiquitous question. So many people have been to Florida or Texas. One man sitting on the bench atop the cliffwalk asks “What do the American people now think of Bush?”, and we ask about Blair (“Some question his honesty!”)
We catch the ferry back from Polruan to Fowey, and then another from Fowey to Bodinnick. Our car park is up an extremely steep road – takes about half an hour to reach the car. We then decide to take the ferry across to the road to Mevagissey, a supposedly beautiful Daphne Du Maurier haunt. I think she was born around there; there are certainly enough bookstores prominently displaying her books, her photographs and other memorabilia – but Mevagissey is such a letdown. It is tourism taken to the extreme, full of tacky shops and non-descript architecture, not in the least bit picturesque or attractive. And yet some literature noted it as “One of the prettiest villages in England!” Not!!
Even the architecture – houses and shops – is totally undistinguished. We walk around for half an hour, then get our car and drive back – in rush hour traffic – to the ferry, then we stop to pick up some picnic items for dinner, and so back to our beautiful Allhays to pack.
Marazion and St. Michael’s Mount
Up and away from our beautiful Allhays by 9:30 (sob) after our usual yummy breakfast, which this time includes stewed plums. The day is overcast – our first overcast day since arriving. We drive from Polperro to Penzance, another tourist mecca, down narrow high hedge-rowed lanes, trees arching overhead, ferns sprouting from the hedgerows. Once in Penzance, we find Tourist Information, and they find us a B&B overlooking Mount St. Michael. Not the best B&B, but two beds (very comfy) and a shower en-suite (important!)
The toilet in our bathroom is amazing: you flush, and it sounds much like a steam engine coming to boil … then it’s a bang and a BANG BANG BANG CLATTER CLATTERCLATTERCLATTER!! Incredible. The noise seems to go on for ages. And the tap over the sink also startles you out of your wits when you turn it on, causing another major BANG from the toilet.
From the sublime to the ridiculous! Actually, it’s funny as hell. We couldn’t help laughing because it’s so uniquely LOUD.
Anyway, we leave the luggage and drive into Marazion, park and take the ferry to St. Michael’s Mount. Filled with history, beautiful and eerie. We walk uphill to the top of the mount, and tour the castle and the grounds. The “docents” in the castle (for want of a better word) are very charming and knowledgeable. One old gentleman, in talking about Lord and Lady Leven, impressed on us how delightful Lady Leven was (she had died unexpectedly at age 69). “Yes, madam always said ‘good morning’ and ‘isn’t it a lovely morning?’ when she came across us.”
After exploring, we walk back down the (very very steep) hill to the causeway. By now, the tide is out and we are able to actually walk back to the mainland (Diane loved this!)
Then it’s back to our odd little B&B. After some discussion, we decide to drive to Land’s End (at 5PM) for a quick 1-2 hour hike across the cliffs there. On reaching Land’s End, we quickly park and walk through the tourist excrescence fronting the cliffs. There are only one or two couples around, and it is very quiet and dim, heavy clouds scudding across the sky.
We walk across the slowly eroding cliffs for about 1-1/2 hours as the twilight deepens, and the wind blows, making it all very mysterious and atmospheric.
We then drive back 12 miles to Marazion, leaving our car at the B&B, and walking to the King’s Arms for dinner (which takes 2 hours arriving!). Then it’s back to our B&B and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, Lacock and Castle Combe!
Lacock – at the Sign of the Angel – and Castle Combe
We are up and out of the B&B in Marazion by 9, after a hearty breakfast (surprisingly good.) Then it’s driving, driving and more driving. We drive through Glastonbury, but do not stop. This is not an attractive town! And this is twice I have visited areas fabled as the birthplace/resting place of King Arthur, and twice have been disappointed! The first was Tintagel, now it’s Glastonbury…maybe it’s me. Nonetheless, we have driven through beautiful country, and we are now in Wiltshire, and are just coming into Lacock, around 5PM. This is where “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed (is there any other Mr. Darcy than Colin Firth?)
What a beautiful charming little town! It’s fifteenth century, and owned by the National Trust. We are lucky enough to get two rooms in The Sign of the Angel, where we duck down through the doors, and the floors all slope downward. The rooms are enchanting, and as no twin bedded-room is available we opt to have our own room each. Both are en-suite, with big bathtubs to wallow in, which we did! My room is painted deep pink, with burgundy carpet, white iron queen sized bed, feather pillows and bolsters, old antique furniture – and somewhere, there is a resident ghost! It said so on the little marquee in the old hallway.
This afternoon, the sun is back out and after wandering around the town (which takes about 5 minutes), Diane and I buy English newspapers and take them to the adorable little pub, The George. The door is open wide and inside it is everything a pub should be – and more. I order a cuppa, and Diane an apple cider, and we sit in a corner and I read the Guardian – so very civilized and literary as we are. I love this place.
Next is dinner. Downstairs is the Angel’s unbelievably charming dining room – the food is fabulous – salads, baked goat cheese on toasted olive bread, wonderful veggies, crusty rolls and deep yellow butter. (I have eaten far more on this trip than I would ever eat at home – I hope! But then – we are hiking.)
After dinner, Diane and I walk down the tiny lamplit streets under a clear black velvet night sky full of stars (I am sure she wishes Robert were there instead of just me…)
The windows in several houses are uncurtained and we are able to look into the glowing small yellow-lit living rooms and dining rooms of these ancient homes built in the time of Shakespeare.
And now I am all packed for the drive back to Gatwick tomorrow, (after we see Castle Combe) and sitting up against my feather bolsters finishing my journal (more or less.) I have seen and done much – Diane has really pushed me to do more than I even conceived of– and I am so grateful. It has been really wonderful, and I’ve learned so much about England. It is good to know there are still the ancient towns, the footpaths (all 1,500 of them) and back roads, the hedgerows, stiles and kissing gates on this jolly old island.
Up early to breakfast downstairs… We have porridge with brown sugar and cream! I think I’ve died and gone to heaven (there’s the sign, you see.) We are also offered fresh raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and a hot breakfast.
It is a misty morning as we leave Lacock for Castle Combe. We take a wrong turn somewhere, but manage to eventually find the road, passing through towns called Tiddleywinks and Shepton Mallet, to yet another entrancing small village. We park in the car park, and walk down a steep hill right into Jane Austen country.
Beautiful (for want of a better word) tiny stone and brick homes and shops framed in ivy, or flowering or berried vines. We wander about the town in a happy daze, then begin our hike through the surrounding countryside. Beginning in misty dim morning weather, the sun eventually breaks through the mist, and the day clears as we walk in quiet woods where beech leaves dropping to the ground sound like the patter of tiny feet following us.
Across fields and climbing over stiles and gates and crossing streams, we manage to again get lost! We finally find the main road behind a farm, and wind up at Castle Combe, where we stop at a most adorable little pub for a quick drink. Then we ramble around a delightful tiny shop that has the most perfect things: pictures, objets, pottery, photography — all so beautiful, you want to buy out the shop. I didn’t (surprise!) but Diane makes some inroads…
Then it is back to our lovely elegant pub for a quick lunch. We sit outside in the sunshine, watching as about 30 Japanese wander into town. Moments later, about 15 bikers zoom in and park in the square. Even here, time doesn’t stand still….
And as it moves on, we must start thinking of getting on our way. We walk back up the hill to the car park, the sun by now shining so brilliantly, it is intensely hot. And then it’s on the road to our hotel at Gatwick, a quick bath and dinner, and so to bed. We must be up at 7AM to catch the hotel bus to the airport by 9AM. We have seen so many beautiful, traditional, wonderful sights on this trip — been transported back to a quieter, cozier and less frenetic time…
People tell me old England, the backroads and coastal towns, are disappearing or changing beyond recognition. Maybe so…but not for me. On this hike, England was everything – and more – that I hoped it would be. I love England…I always will.