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In the magical Blue Ridge Mountains above Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Yonahlossee Overlook, driving up Grandfather Mountain

“Sometimes very strange things happen in the mountains…nothing above but sky…and God.” The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham

I’ve always loved this quote from Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. And there’s especially something about being deep in the mountains in springtime –the hush of the forests blanketing the slopes, the myriad shades of rustling green, the birds singing so happily now that winter is over, and the air chilly and sweet.

Lesley and friend deep in the mountains

A short trip to reconnect with Lesley, a friend I’d known since I was a child – whom I hadn’t seen for over 50 years – was four days of inhaling great beauty in the great and glorious Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

Wednesday

Lesley lives atop one of the mountains – in a home with 360 degree views that take in the surrounding ridges and deep, pine-strewn valleys.

It is so quiet, all you hear are the music of the birds and the wind soughing through the trees. Charlie, Lesley’s cat, agrees!

At the base of a twisty, gravelly trail is the small (three blocks) mountain town of Blowing Rock,

I love this Harley Davidson sign in the magical little town of Blowing Rock!

where we went for dinner at the Storie Street Grille that first night … a small, delightful restaurant (aren’t they all?) at which we had – a first for me – fried asparagus. Yum-o! Followed by a perfectly prepared filet with polenta that was absolutely delicious.

After dinner, we ambled around the town, looking at the small shops and cobblestone paths, churches, vine covered houses, restaurants and pubs in the still sunlight deep in the mountains. Already I’m in love!

Thursday

I woke up around 10AM after a great night’s sleep, which I’d needed after a busy work week back home.

The weather continued to be glorious – 70 degrees. I love sitting on the deck in the mornings, inhaling the view with my coffee!

We drove to Boone for breakfast at a farm-to-table restaurant, where we sat on the café’s deck and kicked back. Allie, Lesley’s beautiful Golden Doodle, joined us, good as – well – gold.

Boone, named for Daniel Boone, is a college town, home to Appalachian State University, and the main street was awash with students everywhere. I love the old stonework that is part of so many houses and buildings here…

It was time for some much-needed walking on the trails so we wended our way to Cone Memorial Park, a Blue Ridge National Heritage area that is truly exquisite and beautifully maintained. Lots of trails. Canadian geese on the lakes.

Our hike took us around Trout Lake

Trout Lake

and up through woods into the mountains, passing an old apple barn and a sign by the side of the road that said “Due to past pesticide use in apple orchards, some soils on the Cone Estate will contain high levels of arsenic and or lead. Do not dig or allow children to dig in soils…” Really brings you up short with an appalling reminder of the harm done in the past to these wonderful orchards.

Beautiful dry stone walls…always a favorite…

The trails were dotted with dry stone walls and old buildings, and everything was green green green. There are about 25 miles of trails – we did five!

Friday

Sunrise high in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Woke around 9 in the morning…I’d actually waked at sunrise, which was so beautiful from the bedroom window, I had to jump from the bed to take a photograph. Morning has broken (thanks Cat Stevens)!

Our first stop of the day was an English café called Eat Crow – we had English pasties, and I bought a bumbleberry pie for that night’s dessert. I had never tasted one before. It was delish!! From there, we took a circuitous route up Grandfather Mountain, stopping at various outlooks on the way to the summit. Glorious!!!

Driving to the summit of Grandfather Mountain

Once we summited and parked, the next big challenge was opening the car door! The wind factor was “only” 18 mph” but it felt like 100… Lesley had to hang onto the door handle while I exited.

Woof! Some wind!

Allie held me down so I didn’t blow away…isn’t she gorgeous?!

But the views! Unbelievable, and so elemental….I just loved it…I think it was my favorite adventure out of all the wonderful treks around the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Once we got back home, we drove into Blowing Rock for a concert at the Inn at Ragged Gardens (don’t you love the names)…which Les attended,

and I, needing a bit of a rest, found the SixPence Pub where I had a quiet corner to put my feet up and drink my Boddington’s. Loved it! Wrote my journal and just enjoyed the surroundings.

Saturday

As we drove down and up the mountain from the house to various ports of call, I’m noticing the houses, barns and farms that hang precariously from the mountainside or plunge into the valley. Here is one beautiful image.

A home with a view

On this day, we drove back to the Cone Memorial Park, and wandered around Mildred the Bear’s Environmental Habitat, found secret side paths and dry stone walls, and stopped at overlooks to take in the unparalleled views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Secret pathways…love them!

Blowing Rock was just two miles away, so we ate lunch at the tiny Blowing Rock Grilled Cheese Café.

We both had the French Grille. It encompassed Brie and Gruyere cheeses with pear and fig dressing on a grilled sourdough pannini! Heaven on a plate!

The town was awash with flowers…which always makes me happy!

Buttercups!

This was my last day, the end of a very special trip: reconnecting with my long-time family friend in the beauty of the mountains…many thanks to Lesley for a splendid respite. Doesn’t seem to get any better than this! Time just seems to go so quickly when you are visiting these wonderful places… All my visits to the mountains – the Smokies, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Shenandoah – are a marvelous build up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is just something about the Blue Ridge…but then, I seem to say that about them all!

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Island rambles on the Isle of Wight

A room with a view in Yelf’s hotel, 4th floor

Island rambles on the Isle of Wight

September 6

I decided to make a solo trip to England for two weeks in September 2018, and one of those weeks was spent rambling around the Isle of Wight with John and Joanna, two old friends who live there and who were terrific guides.

I had no idea how much the island had to offer, and how much fun it was going to be to stay on the fourth floor of Yelf’s Hotel, with a perfect view of the sea from my bedroom window.

Hilly Ryde

The fact that Yelf’s has no elevator in no way spoiled the fun of living for a few days in a small English hotel, complete with pub (one of my favorite things), splat in the middle of hilly Ryde.

I had spent a very satisfying week in the Cotswolds before I crossed by ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde. Catching the ferry was a hoot…it runs every 15-30 minutes or so, so you never have to wait very long. However, as they were about to close the gates preparatory to leaving, the ferrymaster saw me trotting up the boardwalk and shepherded me through the ticketing process and onboard. Talk about personal service!

I was picked up at the Ryde dock by Joanna, and deposited at Yelf’s front door. After a brief tidying up and a few minutes of pinching myself that I was actually here, I trotted off to find J&J’s condo – only a block away, but naturally getting lost in the process. After a fun dinner with a group of their friends, I wandered back to Yelf’s under a clear deep blue sky, thinking how much I love small village life.

Everything here is an easy “get to”… Ryde is on hilly terrain, and the streets are good exercise, especially if you’ve walked up and down for half an hour. I was right in the middle of the village…surrounded by shops, cafes, restaurants, book stores…the ever-present (and wonderful) Boots…and houses and condos back to back.

September 7

The next morning, after a really good sleep (missing Yelf’s breakfast in the process) I met Joanna for a quick bite, and then we, along with John, proceeded to wander all around the town.  Of course, Ryde’s right on the water, so a good amount of time was spent along the front.

Weather was chilly, but brilliantly sunny, just about perfect. Green parks and footpaths were everywhere you looked.

After rambling around Ryde, we went on to visit Seaview, which is on Ryde’s eastern end, and has great beaches and the ubiquitous parks.

You can get lost in the middle of the parks, just taking in the gorgeous greenery.

September 8

On the following day, our odyssey took us to East Cowes, Yarmouth and Lymington.

Joanna was tied up, so John and I spent the morning at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer “cottage.”

Situated on wide green grassy swathes with sculptured gardens, it offers marvelous walks through its grounds, including a shadowy tree tunnel to the beach below.

From papier mache ceilings to ivory miniatures, statues, gargoyles, great art and more, Osborne House is a treat.

You can just imagine the ghost of Victoria wandering the hallways, her aides scurrying at her heels.

John and I walked to the beach for lattes at the little tea shop facing the coast…clouds scudded across a blue sky, it was sunny and fresh…perfect!

Joanna joined us in Lymington, a delightful village where we stopped for a seafood meal so fresh it practically walked onto the plate, and we then wandered the streets taking in the village views.

A red Morris Minor stopped us in our tracks…very cool car!

The sunset over the sea gave us some of the loveliest images of the day. .

As a lover of the out-of-doors, the Isle of Wight fulfills my real desire for a green and pleasant land. Sun-dappled foliage, lichen-covered footpaths, overgrown steps to hidden sand or pebble beaches, neon bright flowers, crystal blue-green  seas reaching to far horizons…the whole island is a microcosm of nature’s beauty, in some cases, run wild.

Rich with history and ivy-covered and sometimes spooky hidden corners, I felt I was constantly discovering – and moving back to – England’s magical past.

September 9

On this day, John and I had Sunday lunch at the venerable Royal Esplanade Hotel, situated right on Ryde’s front. It was dim and very quiet, but it had the big plus of Harry’s Bar, which I couldn’t wait to try out that evening…such a kick.

After lunch, we drove to one of my favorite island villages: Bembridge, tiny and full of charm, like all of the best villages,

with lush greenery and neon-bright flowers, and adorable cottages looking freshly painted.

I don’t know if it was because the weather was so incredibly gorgeous, or the town so delightful, or just being there…but it was a marvelous experience.

Where to start. Well, the day itself was made up of blue skies, brilliant sunshine and everything looked clean and shiny. The steps down to Bembridge Beach were surrounded by lush green vegetation, trees in full foliage and a view of the ocean to die for.

A pebble beach prompted poignant and wonderful memories of seasides while a child in England.

The sea was crystal clear.

We were checking out the New Bembridge Lifeboat Station when a sudden emergency galvanized the group of lifeboat volunteers into action, getting the lifeboat out and on the ocean, headed towards who knows what catastrophe. I was just glad the day was sunny and calm for them…and thankful the situation wasn’t life threatening.

Towards the end of the day, we stopped in an old English pub – and I mean an OLD English pub, The Crab & Lobster.

The walls must have been four feet thick, history embedded in every stone…and the ambience was such, you wanted all pubs to be just like this one. We had a half pint in the half-light…I just loved it, so happy in such a perfect place.

September 10

Waking up, as usual, much too late for the hotel’s breakfast (I think I managed one during my time at Yelf’s), I wandered outside to the corner café for breakfast and just to kick back looking at the big green buses passing by, along with a motley variety of the town’s inhabitants and tourists. I had a perfectly lovely view, and drank in my latte, drinking in every minute of the morning.

A while later, I met Joanna and she drove us to Shanklin, yet another small delightful village where once upon a time, her mother (and one of my oldest friends), had lived.

We stopped to take in an old church and its wychgate – a word that has always fascinated me and I finally got to see what one looked like.

The ubiquitous red post boxes dotted the area, a British icon that, thankfully, is still in use.

Flowers were blooming (freesias here, Mum’s favorite flower) and the day was windblown and blue.

After wandering here, there and everywhere, we rambled to the front, where the glorious blue seas, white clouds and green fences made a beautiful picture.

A woven lattice fence bordering one of the island’s dwellings…these are really intricate pieces of art, and so charming.  Wish I could build one back home…

We drove back to Yelf’s, where Joanna and I had dinner in its lovely small pub, and a good natter about “old times” (we go back years!)

And so the end of another perfect day.

September 11

One of Ryde’s most historic landmarks is the monastery Quarr Abbey and Farm, home to a small group of Benedictine monks, and a haven for wildlife and plants.

It is a walk back in time…from the ancient buildings including the Abbey itself to homes built on the property, and the working farm …all in all, a magical experience. The weather on our visit this day was slightly overcast, making the green of the countryside glow like neon against a lavendar-gray sky.

The grounds are so tranquil. We sat inside the church and meditated.

Vines, flowers and flowering shrubs are everywhere.

As we wandered through the farm, ducks and geese crossed our path. Machinery sat silently by.

We rambled through leaf-strewn paths, (one of my favorite pictures above) in the hush of the woods that cover the grounds.

Visited with a writer friend of J&J’s who lived in one of the old cottages that seemed to have evolved from the surrounding nature.

I guess you could say: Another perfect day.

September 12

And so it was time to leave. Leaving England always puts a lump in my throat.

I caught the ferry from Ryde back to the mainland, and taxied to London, where I was staying again at the Kensington Hotel (one of my favorite hotels ever).

As I gazed out of my hotel window at the rooftops of wonderful London, I wished I were Mary Poppins, floating over the chimney pots!

A lovely end to a magical trip! Thanks forever to John and Joanna. I love the continual discovery of new and delightful and exquisite areas of England….an England never ceases to enchant me.

 

 

 

Wales and England: Hiking hidden footpaths

The cliffs at Land's End

The cliffs at Land’s End

Hiking hidden footpaths in England and Wales

It’s been about 19 years since I went on my first walking tour of England and Wales…it was 1996, to be exact. The month was September, and the weather could not have been more perfect, the countryside more beautiful. If anything motivated me to begin hiking, it was this trip. Of course, not every hike is perfect…weather, nervousness about driving on the left hand side of the road (and the roundabouts!), finding a good place to stay. Nonetheless, the two weeks spent here were an eye-opener. Who knew these out of the way places existed? Some of the towns and countryside looked as if they had never moved into the 20th century…and still retained the innocence of an earlier time.  So…on to London.

London

London

London

Arriving at Gatwick I found a porter who whisked me onto the Airport Express train to Victoria Station – somehow missing the customs melee. “There’s no-one there – no problem!” (You could tell this was pre-9/11.) On the train into London, I spied a fox slinking into the underbrush, its bushy red tail waving in the breeze.

Once in London, I grabbed a taxi to the Covent Garden Hotel. I was meeting Lee here later – and the suite wasn’t going to be ready for hours – so I settled in the library sitting room to read and drink a cup of tea with real cream (three pounds!) The hotel is a former French hospital which had become a delightful four-story retreat, small and intimate, and splashed with chintz. The library offers deep sofas and chairs, The London Times and Observer, and London Vogue.

Lee arrived at 10AM, and off we went to see London. We sat atop a sightseeing bus in the open air – bloody cold! Disembarking constantly, we rambled around Sloane Square and down St. James Street, around Leicester Square and Covent Garden, where we looked for -and found – 84 Charing Cross Road and the site of that lovely old bookstore. If you haven’t read the book by Helene Hanff, do so…it is terrific (and the follow-up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, while you’re at it.)

Back at the hotel, our suite was ready. Padded yellow rose chintz coats the windows, bed and loveseat. Beautiful more-than-full-size feather beds sit high, high up, with immense feather pillows. An equally immense bathroom holds a deep soaking tub with a separate shower.

That night, we moseyed once again around Covent Garden and Leicester Square, where the crowds were really overpowering –  there was hardly room to move. After a light dinner, it was back to the hotel to prepare to take off early in the morning.

The weather this first day has been just great – although cold, the sun is shining and the sky blue. A great omen.

Broad Chalke, Wiltshire

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Surprise: we overslept! We had barely enough time for breakfast before our car was delivered. At 9:45 AM, a sharp-looking little red Rover rolled up to the front door. As designated driver, I immediately smashed the left hand rearview mirror while trying to negotiate the tiny, tiny one-way streets of London.

We managed to get out of London – but it was an absolutely wild trip, as I had never driven a “left-handed car” and kept driving into the curb. And the roundabouts! It took me days to get used to them. Finally, we got out of London, stopping in the tiny town of Weybridge for coffee and a look through a bookshop; then on to our first bed and breakfast – Stoke Farm in Broad Chalke.

The roads leading to Broad Chalke are through Wiltshire. The deeper in-country we drove, the more ye olde England it became. The deep hedgerows, the farmlands, the woods –the England of legend. The sun shone intermittently; parts of the day were overcast – but by afternoon, it was hot.

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

Keeping a very sharp eye out, we were lucky to spot a miniature sign saying “Stoke Farm” hidden in a hedge. It was 6PM, still daylight. Jan, the proprietor, was a charming woman who was so busy she hadn’t much time to do anything but show us the bedroom and bathroom, and ask us to write down our breakfast requests.

Our first view of the farmhouse looked like something from a Jane Austen novel. Converted to a bed and breakfast, it is built of old and beautiful stone, nestling in the Wiltshire countryside. It lies at the bottom of a hill (which we climb that night after dinner.) Baskets of flowers hang from every window, and the front lawn is surrounded by evergreens and flowering plants. Cows and horses lingered in the surrounding fields. Two dogs ran around the yard.

The entryway held a big Welsh dresser, with blue and white platters and china covering the shelves. The cozy dining room was papered with brown patterned wallpaper, and had a big fireplace, and an old dining table and sideboard.

The only other guests were a very attractive Belgian couple, who nodded and smiled and basically said not a word to us as they only spoke Belgian…conversation was limited to good mornings.

Our bedroom was, of course, charming – all chintz and prints – as was our bathroom across the hall. I leaned from my bedroom window to look across hills and dales and farmland, as far as the eye could see.

Just down the road is Broad Chalke itself – a few cottages, a couple of manor houses, and an old pub at the crossroads, where we had dinner. The dessert of apple pie crumble with real cream was heavenly – makes me hungry just to think about it!

We loved Stoke Farm. It was so peaceful and quiet, quiet, quiet. Walking up the low-lying hill that night, the silence was like balm to the soul. The sky was clear as a bell, and the stars, magnificent, blanketing the sky.

Wiltshire – Broad Chalke, Fovant, Stonehenge and Old Sarum

Again, we overslept: breakfast is between eight and nine, and we woke at ten to nine. Breakfast: haddock in scrambled eggs, toast and broiled tomatoes. The hot tea hit the spot. Once all that was under our belts, we planned our itinerary: to Stonehenge, and then to Old Sarum. On the way, fascinating chalk figures carved into a hill just outside the town of Fovant caught our attention. Quickly parking the car, we climbed to more closely view these figures carved by airmen in World War I.

 

From Fovant, we wended our way to Stonehenge – mysterious and fascinating. The sky was overcast, the day gray and windy- what better for Stonehenge? The monoliths are visible from a great distance, and seas of grass stretch for miles around…all is emptiness, except for a few tourists and the monolithic stones.

Stonehenge - mysterious and wonderful

Stonehenge – mysterious and wonderful

Old Sarum was our next stop, another strange and wonderful place. We climbed the hill to the castle remains, crossing a drawbridge across a great dry moat. The crumbling, immensely thick stone walls of the castle and the remains of “old” Salisbury Cathedral stood out against the greenest of green grass and fields. Wandering these ruins was a truly mystical experience.

Old Sarum

The walls of Old Sarum

On the drive back to Stoke Farm, we stopped for dinner at a quaint old inn down a twisty, winding, hilly and hidden country lane. Navigating these lanes by car, so narrow with the highest of hedgerows, was an adventure by day; a real challenge by night. The lanes turn and twist, with often only room for one (very small) car to navigate through. So far, we’ve been lucky – only one or two minor scrapes (the side of our little car looked as though it had been in the wars.)

Dinner tonight started with pate with hot toast, and finished with apple pie and cream (munching our way through England – thank goodness for all that walking.)

On the road to Lyme Regis

From the heart of England, we drove to Lyme Regis, through rolling English countryside – going like a bat out of hell. English drivers are truly another breed: if you aren’t driving quickly enough, the kinder, gentler blokes behind the wheel blink their lights, the aggressive honk madly until you move over!

We stopped for a little “smack of something” on our way down the I-30. The tea shop had great coffee. As a matter of fact, the coffee is usually excellent; of course, the tea was terrific, piping hot.

Back on the road, we pulled over halfway to Lyme Regis for a long walk down a country lane, over neon-green fields. In a sheltered corner, we stopped to eat our lunch, bought at the tea shop. In my pack is “homemade bread pudding” with raisins – half of which is eaten by Lee, who had formerly announced she does not like raisins.

Onward to Lyme Regis through the little town of Uplyme – very pretty with pastel-painted houses. Lyme Regis lies just beyond, and at first glance seemed very touristy, not at all what we had in mind. But after finding a small white hotel with two small rooms – about 20 pounds apiece – we headed  for the beach, walking through the center of town to reach the boardwalk. We clambered over concrete “sand dividers” to reach a deserted stretch of sand that was both pebbly and seaweedy and rather forbidding.

Uplyme

Uplyme

The cliffs of solid sand are high and dangerous, but climbing was forbidden because of the constant erosion. Then the beach suddenly opened up and stretched literally for miles, and the late afternoon sunlight played on the cliff face. For the first time, I felt “I’m here!” It was so beautiful and lonely and we could have walked for miles, but the tide comes in rapidly, so we had to turn back sooner than we wished.

Next on the agenda was food! We ate in the courtyard of a rather charming small hotel – fish and chips for me, fisherman’s platter for Lee, and it was quite a picture: two major fish complete with heads, tails and eyes. While we were eating, what seemed to be the largest seagull in the world perched on a ridgepole, cawing and squawking plaintively. I threw chips in the air for him – seemed to be the right thing to do, and he caught them as if he hadn’t eaten for days.

CORNWALL

Viewing St Michael's Mount

Viewing St Michael’s Mount from Marazion

 

We were in the parking lot at Lyme Regis, trying to find our way out. After several turns around the maze-like lot, we finally gave it up as a bad job, and asked the parking attendant to direct us to the gate – which happened to be straight ahead. The look on his face was indescribable.

Now we were on the road to Cornwall. Driving at 80 mph, and cars passing me by. I whizzed by a sign which says “Pork and Rice,” realizing shortly afterwards that it really says “Park and Ride” but who the heck could figure it out since we were going at the speed of light! Traffic signs were everywhere bearing such legends as “Traffic calming ahead.”

Marazion

Halfway to our destination, we pulled off the road to take a brief hike over a ferny footpath, then back in the car to head for Ednovean House, our B&B in Perranuthnoe. By the end of the day, we were extremely punchy, having driven 180 miles. But for the life of us we can’t find Perranuthnoe.

Impromptu walks through fields and woodlands is a wonderful way to see England

Impromptu walks through fields and woodlands is a wonderful way to see England

Disconcertingly, several people stared blankly at us when we ask directions, but even though some gave directions such as “you can’t miss it, only two miles down the road”, or “plenty of signs to it, dear, just keep going straight” we seemed to travel in circles. Only when we were told “turn right at Bertie Wooster’s Restaurant” did we finally reach our destination.

And here we are at Ednovean House – except for the fact we arrived a day early! Apparently really screwed up, having booked our room for Friday and Saturday nights; no rooms are available tonight! Once again, we’re back in the car, on the road for Marazion, a small town two miles away.

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Just about to drop from exhaustion, we found a small hotel in Marazion with two single rooms. We dumped our luggage and walked downhill to a tiny, adorable restaurant for a delicious dinner of crevettes in sauce, mushrooms in garlic, and delicious chewy bread. Dessert is English sherry trifle!

Perranuthnoe, the cliff walks

The food at our hotel in Marazion was terrific. Breakfast included poached eggs on toast – the yolks bright yellow – English bacon, sausages and fried tomatoes. A note: these tomatoes are the best I’ve tasted anywhere.

After a short walk along the beach, we discovered that this is where we will walk the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount…

Back to Perranuthnoe, leaving our car in a park by the sea and immediately began a wonderful hike over the cliffs. This was the best and most fabulous walk so far, and was my favorite of the entire trip. Up, up a winding footpath through lanes lined with tiny pastel-colored houses; up, and up through farmyards and into lanes with high, high hedgerows. Over stiles, into far-ranging fields of grass and new-mown hay. Crossing fields full of cows.

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The sea is visible at a distance, and then: bang! We’re on the cliffs of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – looking down, down – waves crashing on the rocks, the sea crystal-blue-green, like glass. We clambered over the cliffs, across rocks and boulders, finding winding footpaths down, through blackberry brambles full of ripening berries, through fern and nettle.

The wind gusted across the cliffs, the sun was brilliant, the day warm and glorious. We rested on the rocks below, taking in the fabulous beauty before returning to the cliff top – and feeling fabulously alive. This was an incredibly magnificent site…we were both in awe of the majesty of the vistas surrounding us.

At the end of the day, we finally ensconced ourselves in Ednovean House. The view from our window was amazing: across emerald green fields, you see the sea, a clear, deep blue, mirroring the sky above. Set against this glamour are the storied island and castle of St. Michael’s Mount, which floats in the bay like some fabled “casement in faery lands forlorn.” Backed by the gold of the setting sun, it could be the Isle of Avalon come to life. The air is crystal clear and the view was/is  perfection.

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

We had cocktails on the lawn in the late day sunshine; St. Michael’s Mount was our backdrop. A magic moment. Lee and I both lifted a glass to this wonderful memory-in-the­-making.

Val and Arthur, the proprietors, serve a yummy dinner: steak and kidney pudding with the crust made from scratch, fresh crisp green beans, carrots, and zucchini, and zesty crispy potatoes. Dessert is brandy pudding with clotted cream. Too good to pass up, but I am glad, glad, glad we are walking and hiking as much as we are!

St. Michael’s Mount, Mousehole and Land’s End

Up at 6:30AM, we returned to Marazion to begin our adventure, and fulfill one of my childhood dreams: to walk the pebble causeway to St. Michael’s Mount. Only twice a day (early morning and midnight) is the causeway accessible, the tide being at the full at all other times.

We were the only people on the causeway, except for one solitary man. The tide was out, and had left fishing boats beached in the sandy cove. Unfortunately, we were unable to actually enter the castle, as it is too early in the morning, but we were able to walk the outside grounds.

St Michael's Mount - sunset

St Michael’s Mount – a view from our B&B at sunset

Yet although this is a tiny island, small houses are built around the castle’s outer walls. All is gray stone…castle, houses, walkway, a perfect backdrop for the flowers, which are a painter’s dream of color: one wall drips with immense hydrangeas in all colors. Another wall is muralled with a history of St. Michael’s, painted in delicate detail. The morning is clear and the sky takes on the colors of the sea…it is a perfect, peaceful place.

On St. Michael's Mount

On St. Michael’s Mount

The tide turned, and the causeway was awash, so back to Ednovean House in time for breakfast…then we were off to Mousehole, a tiny fishing village that was home to my grandmother and grandfather many years past. Mousehole is built on a hill, its tiny grassy paths leading to backs of houses, and uphill to glorious views of the bay. Its tiny harbor is filled with fishing boats, and many, many people wander its winding cobbled streets.

A street in Mousehole

A street in Mousehole

The sun shone brilliantly, and the day was balmy. September is a holiday month, and with this glorious weather, every last person was out enjoying it.

After a brief halt for tea, we were again back in the car, driving up the winding lanes to the cliffs of Land’s End. At first glance, Land’s End is not appealing, as it is fronted by a huge whitewashed “castle” backed by booths, rides and whatnot. We ignored all this, and walked to the headland, covered in purple heather and yellow gorse.

The cliffs of Land's End

The cliffs of Land’s End

The view was spectacular. A narrow footpath took us to the cliff’s edge, and in some places, the drop was sheer. We walked about four miles along the cliffs, which look far, far out to sea. The sea was tipped with silver in the sunlight, and crashed in mighty waves over the rocks below. Incredibly beautiful.

Back to Perranuthnoe, for dinner at Victoria Inn in the village. Perranuthnoe is a village forgotten by time: tiny and tinier, it houses several bed and breakfasts, old stone houses covered in ivy and hung with baskets of flowers, and the church. It is banked by the sea, and absolutely massed with flowers all in bloom. The colors! The flowers! Nasturtiums, sunflowers, daisies, hydrangeas, huge pots of massed orange and red geraniums. All houses are decorated with flowers…pots and hanging baskets are everywhere we look. The hedges along the roadsides are starred with all manner of tiny wildflowers. It is a delightful spot.

Perranuthnoe

Perranuthnoe

St. Kew and Crackington Haven

Up at eight, we had breakfast of coffee, juice, muesli and tomatoes on toast with toast. Hmm! Now packing up ready to leave for Crackington Haven and Tintagel.

On the road, manicured, pristine farm country surrounds us. About ten miles from our destination, we pulled onto a tiny side lane, parked and set off in the direction of St. Kew. A green field uninhabited by cows called to us, so we picnicked in the sunshine, with sandwiches, chips, blackberries from the bush, and a half-melted Aero bar.

St Kew Inn

St Kew Inn

Afterwards, we rambled awhile in the general direction of St. Kew. It is tremendously exhilarating to just be able to walk without being bothered by people, cars or signs saying “no trespassing”. The narrow road leads through the high green hedgerows and tiny villages, past old stone houses with slate or thatched roofs which are hung with baskets filled with nasturtiums and daisies; past manor houses set back in green fields, surrounded by immense bushes of blue and multicolored hydrangeas.

We came to St. Kew, a tiny, tiny village with a wonderful old church and tiny graveyard, with gravestones so old we are unable to read them. We stop at an inn for coffee, then turn back to the car. Up the lane, we notice a manor house for sale, set back from the road with a long drive bound by rhododendrons. I pretended I lived there just for a moment…can’t imagine how magical that would be.

It was so quiet. Tiny birds were singing, but no other sound was heard. We were really in deep country; although hard to believe, it does still exist, unspoilt, fresh, and utterly satisfying. The air is clean; we’re still having beautiful weather, and the breeze was brisk and evergreen-scented.

We drove on to Crackington Haven…not far, actually. The road to Crackington Haven, which is situated high atop a hill overlooking the sea, winds up, up and up. We turned down the short grassy lane to Manor Farm, which, we were told, is listed in the Domesday Book. It is very, very old, and very, very beautiful.

The garden at Crackington Haven

The garden at our B&B in Crackington Haven

The grounds, looking as if they are clipped daily with nail scissors, were splashed hydrangea bushes at every possible turn, all blooming in glorious colors.

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

The house itself had stone flagged floors. Our bedroom had twin beds covered with rose flowered chintz covers and frilled pillowcases. The room – as are all the rooms -was whitewashed, with dark oak Tudor beams, and a very low ceiling. The bathroom also had oak beams, on which I had already knocked my head, and a step-down, which had sent Lee crashing into the tub. (Expletives here.) The room had two low, low, low diamond-paned dormer windows with inset window seats. Another smaller window faced the beds.

Muriel, the proprietor, took us through the sitting room with large windows looking onto green lawns, and on into the dining room where a highly polished table was set for six, with place cards. Uh-oh. Our trip has been very casual, as far as clothes are concerned. We have come up against it here; when we ask Muriel if we dress for dinner, she answers “Ectually….yes!” in no uncertain terms.

I had to wear what I have, the best of it being a cashmere sweater and khakis. Lee had on jeans and black socks: “Black socks make any outfit, my dear!”

We were told to be back from our walk by 5:30 to do the wash; drinks in the bar are at 6:30 sharp; dinner is at 7; and breakfast is at 8:30AM. This is about all the regimentation I can take. We’re glad that we plan to be out all day Monday, and must find our own dinner Monday night!

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

After an hour-long walk, we took our dirty clothes to be washed at the requested 5:30 PM. Cleaned up, we ran back downstairs for cocktails at 6:30. (Our clothes are given the once-over, then ignored.) Dinner, where we met  two young couples staying at the Manor, was turkey steaks with mustard sauce, fig pie with raspberry sauce and clotted cream, cheese and biscuits, and wine. Coffee is served afterwards in the drawing room.

We log in another five miles today!

Crackington Haven, Bude, Tintagel, and Boscastle

Out on the road for a quick walk at 7AM, we zoomed back for breakfast at 8:30 sharp. Muriel, a former schoolteacher, rings a little bell to remind us that breakfast is served.

Beginning one of our walks at Crackington Haven

Beginning one of our walks at Crackington Haven

We have a full breakfast of orange juice, sausage, bacon, eggs, fried bread, tomato, toast and coffee. And are requested not to leave anything on the plate, or not to order anything that we won’t eat. Gee, where’s the joy in that?!

Then we took off to explore. First on our list was Bude and a walk over the cliffs. Bude is not a pretty place. The sand on the beach was churned up in giant mud flats, and the day was overcast and dreary. We decided to move on to Tintagel. And what a disappointment it was (to me, anyway)! The town is very gimmicky and full of tourists, and the headland itself was blocked by King Arthur’s Castle Hotel, a ghastly lump of red brick with absolutely no redeeming architectural value. We were shocked, and needless to say, did not stop. In retrospect, that was a mistake, as there’s always something hidden behind the touristy buildings that makes a visit worthwhile. Nonetheless, we plowed on to Boscastle.

Views around Boscastle

Views around Boscastle

It’s not far to Boscastle, a harbor town built down the side of a mountain. Steep, steep, steep little roads led to a walled village over which the mountain cast its immense shadow. We met a bus head-on, and the roads are so narrow, our lives flashed before our eyes! The houses and buildings here are very old, with gray slate roofs, and pots of bright flowers hanging from walls and dotting the small gardens. The trees lining the road are strung with ivy; dry stone walls support the soaring mountain forest at every turn; lichen and moss cover every possible rock, crack and crevice, and a wide variety of delicate flowers poke their heads from the hedgerows.

Boscastle

Boscastle

After a fish and chip lunch, we returned to Crackington Haven, to hike over the cliffs. Our path gave us spectacular views of the great Atlantic Ocean, the waves tipped with silver and pearl. We are so high up, we feel as if we’re walking on the roof of the world. As we look back to the footpaths we’ve climbed, it’s hard to believe we actually climbed them!

Carpeted in purple heather and yellow gorse, the cliffs stretch as far as the eye could see. By this time, the sun had begun to emerge, which gives the entire day a different perspective (it is certainly cooler here than in Perranuthnoe, which, we find out, is part of what is known as the English Riviera.)

We hiked past The Strangles, that silver, wild, wind-whipped part of the ocean below. Looking for seals among the waves, we missed the return footpath across the fields. Many a cow-laden field is crossed, and we eventually find a path leading through a wooded ravine. After crossing small bridges across limpid, pebble-lined streams, we were finally back at Crackington Haven Cove at the base of the cliff, where a hot cup of tea at a small tea shop revived us. That, plus sitting in the sun, and afterward, walking across the pebbled beach to the receding tide. We heard the sound of the pebbles being sucked back into the sea…”that melancholy, long-withdrawing roar.”

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The undertow was terrifically strong. Earlier, under a gray sky we had seen bathers in the water, which to our touch is icy. Yikes!

We logged in ten miles or so from our hike, and as dinner was not being served at the manor that night, decided to go out for a picnic dinner. Flinging a long scarf around my neck, dressed in khaki green jacket and boots and looking like a WWI pilot, according to Lee, we sneaked into the bar to pick up some lager. This, together with tomatoes, pasties, apples and cheese, was our dinner. We set out for a small field around the corner to eat and relax. There is something so out of time about this: sitting in an English field far, far from all we have known, in the late twilight, surrounded by deep English country…an indescribable experience, albeit somewhat damp.

INTO WALES

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

The Wye Valley, Tintern Abbey, Swansea and Mumbles

Early this morning we hiked for twenty minutes, making sure we are back in time for the breakfast bell. Two new couples joined us at the breakfast table, one from Chepstow in the Wye Valley, and one from New Jersey. Another hearty breakfast is consumed (both of us too nervous about Muriel to leave anything on our plates), and then we were out the door and off.

The couple from Chepstow spoke so glowingly of the Wye Valley, we turned onto the road to Tintern Abbey. The Abbey is a beautiful ruin, the gray stone as fragile as lace, set on a green grassy sward, at the base of a towering mountain.

A quick lunch, and we’re back on the road to Wales, and Mumbles, Swansea.

What a drive: we logged 240 miles, I wondered if we’d ever arrive. When we did, belching fumes and smoke from various pipestacks met our eyes – this is not the Swansea I remember from childhood, but I guess all things must pass.

We finally reach Mumbles, where I spent much of my childhood. It has become a tourist mecca, and is thronged with people. Every road and pathway is built up. I wondered if Thistleboone Gardens was still there….not only is it still there, it looked just the same as it did when I was a child. But… we were no longer able to walk from the Gardens over the cliffs; built over with subdivisions, the land has become too valuable to stay wild.

The Mumbles cliff walk

The Mumbles, Wales cliff walk

As we hadn’t booked into a B&B or hotel, we had a difficult time finding somewhere to stay. Finally we found a rather primitive B&B – only one toilet, and NO soap! Our proprietors, however, were delightful (and the food is good, always a plus.) We toted our luggage upstairs, then left for a walk along the front to the old pier. The castle still brooded on the hilltop. The boardwalk was filled with tiny booths and video games. The population was out in full force, as the weather was  balmy. But it is true: you can’t go home again. It was difficult to see this place of my childhood so clogged with shops, houses, cars, and people. In retrospect, I realize that perhaps I set my sights too high. The years had made a difference.

A quick dinner of fish and chips, and then back up the hill to our B&B. We are so exhausted, we crawl into our beds and are out like lights.

Langland and Bracelet Bays, The Brecon Beacons and the Great Malverns

After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, we packed and locked the car, then left for a couple of hours of walking across the cliffs to Langland and Bracelet Bays. What a glorious, glorious walk. The weather continued to be fabulous. The sun broke through the mist, and it was a beautiful day, and very warm.

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Langland itself is now a retirement community. A few people from the settlement were walking on the footpath over the cliffs, taking in the clean morning air. The cliff walk was exactly as I remembered it, right up to and including the 1930’s style bathing huts lining the cliff top.

Past Langland to Bracelet, and I clambered down the cliffs to the sand – a little nervewracking, as the drop is steeper than it seemed when I began! Bracelet Bay is also exactly as I remember it when I was a child…a wide curve of smooth yellow untrammeled sand, surrounded by cliffs covered in yellow gorse and purple heather. Blackberry bushes abound, berries ripening in the sun…. The flowers were rioting color – orange nasturtiums, yellow gorse, purple heather, hot pink petunias, white daisies, orange-red geraniums, purple-white freesias, white and purple lilac, smelling like heaven. The grass was green, green, green. We passed a red currant bush full of currants, shining like jewels on the branches. Talk about yummy!

The sands at The Mumbles

The sands at The Mumbles

After a two-hour walk, onwards to Mumbles to pick up some supplies and cash checks (these were the days before ATMs – medieval times). I walked across the boardwalk to the sea, which has receded to leave fishing boats beached like whitefish across the exposed reaches of sand. Some things haven’t changed one iota.

Eventually we left Mumbles to drive through the Brecon Beacons, to Herefordshire and the Great Malverns. The route is tortuous, as we got lost trying to find our way out of Swansea, but finally, we were on the open road again.

BACK INTO ENGLAND

The Great Malverns and Herefordshire

The Brecon Beacons took us through wild, empty country showcasing secluded dales and valleys. What views! Sheep roamed freely across mountain tops and stony outcrops. Some rambled across the roads, some rested or grazed. For endless miles, the land stretched out isolated and lonely except for the sheep. It is a fascinating, desolate, eerie place, so different from all we have seen so far.

Driving on, we passed the town of Haye-on-Wye, otherwise known as “Full of Books.” We arrived at the town of Brecon, and turned toward Herefordshire, stopping for a picnic in a green field off a little stony lane. Sausage rolls, a tuna sandwich, apples, most of a black currant tart topped with whipped cream, a scone filled with clotted cream and jam, and custard pie: we now thought of this as a light lunch. We have come far since first beginning this journey…

Cowleigh Park Farm is situated in Malvern, Worcestershire (right on the Herefordshire border). We arrived in late afternoon, and were immediately impressed: what a beautiful place! An old half-timbered manor house, it was originally built in 1200 in a deer park about 100 yards away from where it presently stands. The house fell into disrepair, and in the 1600s was dismantled, and rebuilt in its new location. It is enveloped by farms, hills and orchards. Everywhere, immense clumps of fragrant lavendar meet the eye and fill the nose with fragrance.

Chris, the proprietor and owner, ran the B&B with his wife Sue. He handled all maintenance and also ran a renovation business on the side, while remaining active in the Royal Marine Reserves (he served during the Falklands War.) He is a busy, and – in his words – happy, man.

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

He booked us into the Red Lion pub for dinner, where we had chicken filets in lime and brandy with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, new potatoes, and fresh rolls. Lager accompanied this repast. For dessert, we had rhubarb crumble with whipped cream and coffee. I am still trying to figure out why I didn’t end up looking like Shamu the Whale: we never seem to stop eating!

After the first night, we moved – to a room across the hall. Our new room had board and latch doors, with a bathroom containing an immense bath, deep, new and dark blue, and built very high up. When I stood up in the bath, my head almost touched the low-hung ceiling. Blue and white tiles surrounded the tub. The tiny-paned window was hung with print curtains. The sink was set into a wall-to-wall vanity, which was lined with blue and white bowls and pitchers. The room was whitewashed, with natural oak beams.

In the bedroom were wonderfully comfortable beds which faced a window opening onto the garden. The green wall-to-wall carpet, the pink-striped bedspreads and green velvet wing chair by a potted plant and huge wardrobe all made the room comfortable and inviting. A corner table housed a coffee maker and teakettle.

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

I loved this house…indeed it is one of the most splendid B&Bs we stayed in. We met more of the family: Sue, Chris’s wife, brown-haired, petite, pretty; and Lucky, her three-legged cat, who slept in a black puddle of fur at the top of the stairs.

This morning, after a hearty breakfast (is there any other?) we set off for the Great Malverns. We walked to the top of the highest hill – not so very high at 1300 feet but with a fantastic all-round view. The springiness of the turf was like walking on green velvet. We looked down into the beautiful valleys surrounding us, dotted with tiny villages and isolated cottages, set in the greenest of green fields, or amid trees on gentle hilly slopes. The sun was drawing moisture up into the clouds, and the sky was silver.

The weather continued warm and clear, and the winds, fresh. Although some mornings had been overcast, we never seemed to get a single drop of rain.

The walk to the highest Malvern peak and back down again took us approximately two and a half hours. These hills were thick with flowers: yellow gorse and tall purple loosestrife, cowslips, buttercups, celandines, dandelions … Blackberries, thick on bramble bushes, were in every lane. Stinging nettles were also everywhere; Lee, thinking these were mint, rubbed some casually between her fingers, a big mistake! (Dock leaves take out the sting…)

On the Cotswolds Way

On the Cotswolds Way

Sheep ran freely over the hills. Every once in a while, one became separated from its mates, and the plaintive baaaa-ing was constant. Back in town, we strolled to the pub for lunch and ginger beer, which Lee swears tastes like mouthwash. Then a ramble around the village, which had some of the prettiest gardens ever. The most beautiful deep blue hydrangea bush hung over a garden wall. Another small garden was filled with huge yellow sunflowers. Dry stone walls everywhere. The scent of lilac was unbelievably fragrant.

We left this idyll to drive into town for some shopping and a newspaper, then back to Cowleigh Park for another long walk up the Worcestershire Way.The Worcestershire Way winds through farmlands over untamed fields high with unmown waving grass; through fields of mown hay and bright yellow rapeseed; past a small signpost with the legend “Badger’s Wood”; through a huge apple orchard, the trees bent to the ground and loaded with apples. It continued through fields filled with cows -and one black bull seemingly somewhat annoyed with our presence. As he jogs towards us, we nimbly leapt into a small fenced pen, obviously there for just this reason. Across more fields, down wooded lanes past geese and sheep, we rambled: the sun is out, and the warmth of it is full on our faces.

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

After an hour or two, we turn back to Cowleigh Park, a brief rest, then back to the Red Lion for dinner.

From Cowleigh Park Farm back to London

Time to go home (sob). After breakfast, up and away on the M-40, on the road back to London. A quick lunch at a service center halfway to London took us from the sublime to the ridiculous. We eat quickly, and are glad to be back in the car.

Back in London…

Two girls on a break in London

Two girls on a break in London

On our arrival, the nightmare of trying to find our hotel in the morass of one-way streets begins. The traffic! The noise! The crush of it all! Between the U-turns and reverses in the heavy traffic, we are ready to leave the car in the middle of the road and simply walk to Covent Garden! Finally, in desperation, I parked in a no-parking zone, and Lee walked to our hotel to fetch the concierge who drove us directly to our hotel, no worries.  I will never drive in London again!

After dropping our luggage at the hotel, we walked to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, down Charing Cross Road, and to Fortnum & Mason.

Back in London

Back in London

Then it was back to the hotel, where I looked forward to a bath in the immense tub, surrounded by pristine white tiles, and where half a dozen thick white towels were hanging from a gleaming chrome towel warmer. Two extra-thick terry cloth robes hung behind the door. There is something to be said for a little luxury!

I must confess, I did not care for London on this particular trip. Too big, too impersonal, too busy, too many cars, too many people. It had its moments, but discovering the countryside did it for me. In the deep heart of England and Wales, I found exactly what I was looking for: unspoiled country, beautiful, and timeless. It has all been wonderful.

Now on our way to Gatwick, we passed – unbelievably – a fox slinking into the brush, rounding off a perfectly satisfying adventure into the hidden countryside of England and Wales.

 

 

Hiking in the Great Smokies

The green is the very greenest green

The green is the very greenest green

One of my goals in hiking was to hike the Appalachian Trail – not the entire trail, but at least a portion of it, so that when I read about it, I can visualize its beauty and challenges all the better. So a couple of years ago, I joined Adventures in Good Company for a few days of hiking in one of the greenest areas in the States….

Ro in front of Stairway to Heaven Lodge outside Gatlinburg

In front of Stairway to Heaven Lodge outside Gatlinburg

I met a friend, Lee, at the Knoxville Airport on Sunday, then met up with the rest of the group to bus to our lodge, with a quick stop for lunch and a getting-to-know-you at a side-of-the-road café; we eventually dropped our bags at the Stairway to Heaven Lodge (don’t you love that name!), and began our first day’s hike.  A nice introduction to the area, and a short but sweet walk of around 3 miles up to the Little Greenbrier Community, where early settlers of the region…well…settled! The weather was just what you want it to be on a hike…not too hot, crisp breezes and surrounded by the greenest trees everywhere.

The start of our hikes in the Great Smokies

The start of our hikes in the Great Smokies

Our splendid Lodge is actually a mile or so outside of Gatlinburg (more about that in a minute). Having booked a single room, I was lucky enough to be on the second floor with a spectacular view of the mountains from my balcony outside the bedroom windows (the balcony wrapped around the entire second floor.) Downstairs, a huge common room included the kitchen, where our guides prepared breakfast each morning, and got the coffee going. Is there a better aroma anywhere than coffee brewing early in the morning, and sitting with your cuppa on the balcony when the outside scents of the day are crisp and green? (Rhetorical question, but the answer is: NO!) Here is the balcony view…

View from Ro's balcony at the Lodge

View from my balcony at the Lodge

Before we left for our hike, we were given the first commandment, which was and is: “Leave no footprint.” So no matter where you are, you do not leave the trail, and you certainly don’t leave detritus behind. The trails and surrounding mountains, woodlands and waterfalls are so pristine, you know visitors to the area take this deeply to heart.

Monday

On Monday morning, we were all up bright and early and ready to go. Porter’s Creek Trail passed through a forest wilderness of Eastern Hemlocks and Fraser magnolias, and then into hardwoods. Cultural artifacts we see include an old cabin made up of stone walls with an old cantilevered barn close by, and an old cemetery (Owenby), remnants of a simpler time when a village community lived here.

Iconic bridge crossing a stream

Iconic bridge crossing a stream

Our hike took us to Fern Branch Falls, where we have a light lunch, and then it’s back on the trail to the Lodge.  We walk in a mix of light drizzle and sunshine, and all is quiet and beautiful, or beautifully quiet… The only sound you hear are the birds calling. All in all, this takes about 6 hours, as we stop constantly to view the wildflowers and peer inside crumbling stone walls….a little over 4 miles in all.

Jan and Katie and a bite of lunch by the stream

Jan and Katie and a bite of lunch by a stream

On our way back to the Lodge, we’d stopped off at a grocery cum liquor store and picked up some wine, so dinner at the Lodge, prepared by our guides Jan and Katie, was quite a jolly occasion. After which, I could barely keep my eyes open…so to bed, and no sooner had my head hit the pillow, than I was down and out.

Tuesday

Up at 6:30 (which I consider the crack of dawn) to the aroma of the coffee brewing. Running down the stairs to pick up my cup, I plant myself on the balcony to drink in the view. It really is spectacular…the mountains are just incredible.

The "Refrigerator" Great Smokies National Park

The “Refrigerator” Great Smokies National Park

We hiked off the beaten path today, up to a natural limestone sink, called White Oak Sink. It houses various caves, rare plants and a waterfall, and is surrounded by wildflowers.  The hike has some steep ascents, but the Sink is our stopping point for a light snack and photography. Because of the on and off drizzle, all is green green green (and a wee bit slippery). We spend quite a bit of time here, just wandering around the waterfalls and crossing on the logs across the river.

Wednesday

What a day! We start with a short hike in country close to the Pigeon River.

After which, my first experience whitewater rafting. It’s incredible! And to think I almost opted out of this exhilarating adventure. We were about 6 to a raft, including the guide (to whom I was extremely grateful!) who really knew her way around whitewater. While the water was not actually death-defying, it certainly seemed to be doing its job, which was rockin’ and rollin’ to our next stopping point. I was seated to the right rear of the raft, and every time we hit a drop, I’d bounce from the seat onto the bottom of the raft, which meant that the photographs being taken usually just showed the top of my head (if that)!

Ro does the rapids SMILING

Ro does the rapids SMILING – look at that water!

Scheduled to last about 2 hours, because the river was in spate, we were through in a little over an hour – but what an hour! I loved every second of it…screams and all. It was just the best, and I’d do it again in an instant.

The Great Smokies

The Great Smokies

After that, we gathered for an al fresco lunch surrounded by fields and greenery; it doesn’t get much better than that.

Thursday

Getting ready for the hike

Getting ready for the hike

My favorite thing: finally, I get to set toe on the Appalachian Trail! This is so exciting for me, as I’ve wanted to hike on the Trail ever since I read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”. This part of the Trail goes right through the Park, and was the first trail used by the public with absolutely fabulous views everywhere you turn.

The AT sign at the start of the hike

The AT sign at the start of the hike

It’s a very challenging trail, as well. Tree roots everywhere – you end up literally climbing up and down them from beginning to end. Why did I think the Trail would be less challenging? You had to keep your eyes on the “road” otherwise you can trip and smash your face into one of the huge tree roots, which I eventually did. I had a lovely dramatic fall – bashing my sunglasses into my nose, and splatting full force onto the ground. I think I was out of it for about five seconds, but no more…and there was no harm done. Not fun, however.

Resting atop Charlie's Bunion

Resting atop Charlie’s Bunion

The hike was above 5,000 feet, and we were able to see much of the flora and fauna of these higher elevations. Our aim was to reach a bundle of boulders called “Charlie’s Bunion” … we got there in the middle of the day, and clambered to the peak, looking down over glorious views of the Porters Creek Valley, as well as the main spine of the Smokies. It was just such a kick.

Clingman's Dome

Clingman’s Dome

After a much needed short break, we hiked back down and beavered on to Clingman’s Dome, which rises more than 6,500 feet above the Smokies. It’s the highest point along the Appalachian Trail, providing a 360 degree view of the mountains.  Oddly enough, getting up to Clingman’s was harder for me than the entire AT hike. At this time of the day, the climb seemed to loom straight up….Hoo baby! my legs definitely felt it, coming and going. Once you made it to the top, the view from the tower was about 22 miles, but sometimes if the air is super-clear, you can see as far as 100 miles into seven states!

Laurel tree in bloom

Laurel tree in bloom

All in all, we hiked about 10 miles this day. We started early, around 9AM, and finished after 5PM…worth every sore muscle!

Because of the length of the hike, we were all treated to dinner at a lovely little restaurant in Gatlinburg. The food was yummy – but Gatlinburg itself – well, the word “touristy” doesn’t begin to describe it. The shops covered the town with all sorts and conditions of souvenirs; Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Shop fascinated Lee no end. And the masses of people – this was an eye opener: I’d heard about Gatlinburg, but it really has to be seen to be believed. I saw it – and once was enough for me.

Friday

The Group

The Group

It’s time to say farewell to everyone, but also to squeeze in one more hike, one more picnic. This took us to Laurel Falls, through laurel trees, pine trees and oaks blowing in the gentle wind. The falls are named for the mountain laurel, the beautiful flowering tree which seems to be iconic to the Smokies. It’s tough to leave all this beauty behind, but deeply satisfying to know that places of deep, unspoiled loveliness still lie abundant in the heart of the good old U.S. of A!

Days of Wine and Roses – from the Cotswolds to The Kensington Hotel – Chapter 7

Days of Wine and Roses – from the Cotswolds to The Kensington Hotel – Chapter 7

Friday, September 1…As the days dwindle down to a precious few, it’s really remarkable how slowly time has passed, and how fulfilling each day spent in England has been. From Cornwall to the Cotswolds, there hasn’t been a day that wasn’t fully pleasurable, from the moment we each awoke to the glorious weather, to every view, village, country lane and stile. Lucky us!

On this morning, I was able to meet Old Orchard’s gardener who took such incredible care of its grounds. Mike has been a gardener for some thirty odd years, is self taught, and has a myriad of exquisite landscapes he handles for various clients. Old Orchard was testament to his painstaking care, as a more beautiful garden I have yet to see. Of course, Mike had nothing to do with the grazing sheep in the adjoining field! But every time I see photographs long after returning to the U.S., I’ll remember Mike and Old Orchard and the beauty of flower, fruit, bush and tree – how everything came together to form this truly exquisite English country garden. .

David and I made ourselves sandwiches for lunch, pottered about, and then strolled back to Broadway where we continued the search for “something lavender” for his friends back home. Mid-afternoon, we stopped in the Swan for our half pints of Ubu, and then wended our way to Budgen’s for such items as gooseberry yoghurt…yum!

A restaurant in Broadway called Russell’s was known for its delicious menu, and its side café offered fish and chips, which we decided was necessary fuel for the rest of the day. Along with mushy peas with mint, it was a really tasty early dinner. Need I say we ordered the restaurant’s IPA? We sat outside on benches while the sun shone and children and dogs played around us.

We ambled home along the road between Broadway and Snowshill, stopping in the orchard to pick an apple from the heavily laden tree.

A cloud on this horizon was the chaos of Hurricane Harvey, which was flooding much of Houston, and causing horrific wind damage. We were in constant contact with friends and family back home, and luckily for the most part, they emerged unscathed, as did our homes. The upshot of this for us was whether or not we could get back to Houston the next Tuesday, when we intended to fly home. It didn’t look promising, but we kept in touch with our London hotel The Kensington, and British Airways every few hours just to check on the status of things.

Saturday, September 2…Today would be our last day to really ramble around Broadway, and it was a beautiful day for it. David was finally able to find some lavender products which were made at the Snowshill Lavendar Farm and which were on display at the Cotswolds Trading store, and I checked with a local realtor, as I was getting more and more interested in property in the Cotswolds, and what it would actually cost to live there (big bucks!)

We stopped for lunch at the Broadway Hotel, where David ordered the cauliflower and coriander soup (excellent!) and we both had hamburgers…which sounds a bit of an anomaly, (coals to Newcastle and all that) but so good with Coleman’s Mustard (which we laid on with a shovel…ha!) We always try the IPAs at the pubs and restaurants, and are usually happy with the quality and the taste of each one…Ubu’s being the premier IPA, I think!

The one thing we hadn’t wrapped our taste buds around so far was the Cotswold ice cream, so seeing a vendor’s cart on the street, we stopped for a cone. Cotswold vanilla ice cream is rich and creamy and a tiny bit crunchy, with a certain flavor of its own. I loved it, and appreciated the fact that I only now remembered to check it out…much too good!

We walked down the road to Old Orchard, a little melancholy at the fact that this was probably the last time we’d really be able to take our time and ramble. It was a lovely day, so after David went on into the house, I decided to go for a walk in a different direction, behind Old Orchard and up back lanes lined with fields and old barns and buildings. Everything in the late afternoon looked golden and green.

Sheep dotted the landscape, baa-ing in the distance and there was a gentle breeze. I followed the road to a bridge that was blocked from crossing, so turned another way, ending up outside of another part of Broadway, a little more modern, not quite so picturesque and old. Which was fine.

So back to the house. Runner beans from the veggie garden, picked at the urging of Mike the gardener, were sliced and readied to boil. David and I were determined to have new potatoes with the beans, so we boiled the potatoes, added a little butter, salt and pepper, then sprinkled the remaining watercress atop the dish. David added the remaining Stilton to his. Well, master chefs we are not, but this was great!

We booked Sunday dinner at the Swan, watched an episode of Foyle’s War, and so to bed.

Sunday, September 3…In honor of my dear old dad, David and I decided to have a real Sunday dinner at the Swan, a sort of goodbye celebration.

I’d mentioned to David about the back road into Broadway, and since Steve was tied up and couldn’t drive us over to the inn, we decided to walk to it.

Woof! The weather had changed drastically. As we set out, a cold wind nipped the back of our necks, and a taste of sleet hovered over our heads.

What the previous day had been a pleasurable ramble through bucolic countryside was now a brisk walk to Broadway which seemed to take a little longer than I had remembered! (Lord, I hate being cold!)

By the time we got to the Swan, it was really freezing, made more so by the wind. So a roast beef dinner in the lovely restaurant was just the thing to warm us up (after the usual Ubu IPA!) The dinner was amazing: besides the beef, we had Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower cheese, red cabbage, kale, parsnips, and goose fat roast potatoes. We finished off with sticky toffee pudding. Henry VIII would’ve been proud. Woof!

It was all we could do to pull our jackets on for the walk home, and the weather had not improved. As a matter of fact, the sleet was having a field day, so to speak.

Why I thought it a good idea to take the same (longer) road back to Old Orchard is beyond me, looking back…but we did make it home.

We’d asked Steve to come by for a drink and a nibble later that evening, and we had a lovely farewell get together. How I hated the thought of leaving, but apparently the weather had changed and wasn’t going to change back any time soon, a metaphorical parallel if ever there was one.

Again, we checked with The Kensington hotel to be sure that, if we were unable to fly home on Tuesday, we could stay there as long as was necessary. Then we looked to the British Airways site, and all seemed to be in order. Having done all we could on that score, we had an early night, packing up for the early morning leave-taking.

Monday, September 4…We both rose early as we had to be out of Old Orchard by 10AM – it was being taken over by the new tenants.

We cleaned out the fridge, cleaned up the kitchen, checked all the closets and tried to resecure the door key in the lock box. Of course, we needed the code, and once again, it was buried at the bottom of my luggage.

Always the way. But we found it.

We were to catch the train at Moreton-in-Marsh for Paddington, and Steve picked us up at 9:30 for the quick drive to the town. We really were so lucky in finding Steve – he took super good care of us, knew his way around everything…I can’t speak highly enough of him, and have offered room and board should he ever come to Texas!

So, we caught the train away from our beautiful Cotswolds, and it was on to Paddington. We’d tried to book seats but were unsuccessful…however, we’d no problem getting seats, so don’t know what the problem was re booking.

We disembarked at Paddington, once again on a quest for a restroom. David found out we needed 30 pence for the pleasure of getting inside! Honestly! He mustered up the change, however, and we were both relieved (so to speak).

After all that, we found a taxi and began a rather slow journey to The Kensington. On arrival, the taxi driver tried to inform us about using his taxi, cheap rates, signing up etc. until we finally had to assure him we’d do it all…once we were in the hotel. So we got into the hotel, then had a bit of a struggle with the room clerk (who was very nice) as to our stay.

We wanted to also check British Airways to see if our flight would take off on Tuesday; according to its website, all was in order and we finally decided to give it a rest and just believe it was going to happen. So we cancelled the extra nights we’d booked at The Kensington, and just went with the flow. We were both getting fed up constantly checking and re-checking!

After all this, David and I walked outside to find a restaurant where we could eat lunch. Rocca was perfect: a lovely little Italian restaurant right down the street where we decided to eat our combo lunch/dinner. We shared two orders of a really wonderful bruschetta…I hoped the pesto and garlic didn’t linger too strongly on our clothes!

David ordered Bucatini Pescatore, and I had a terrific Linguine with Roast Chicken. Yum-o!

David wanted to end our English sojourn with drinks in The Kensington’s bar, which was dim and cozy, very library-ish…so adorable. So after a brief rest, packing & unpacking, etc. we met to toast a really memorable time in England, and drink to civilized times and friends. We also had a lively chat about books we’d read and loved. Now how nice a way is that of completing the trip!

The next morning, we rose early to take advantage of The Kensington’s really remarkable breakfast – which was gratis, even though the website said otherwise; then hopped into a taxi kindly flagged down by the concierge, and it was on to Heathrow – no sooner had we gotten there and gone through the usual security etc., than our flight began boarding and we were on our way home.

 

And so…looking back, from the magical delights of Cornwall to the serene beauty of the Cotswolds, the fairy tale was real…at least, it was real for me. And long live the fairy tale – say I, a big believer in fairy tales….

A day in the country – the Cotswolds at its most beguiling – Chapter 6

A day in the country – the Cotswolds at its most beguiling – Chapter 6

Thursday, August 31…We woke to a morning filled with sun. Looking from my bedroom window over grass stippled with moving cloud images, I imagined myself living here, in the Cotswolds, embedded in this beautiful countryside.

Of course, I brought myself down to reality with the thought of winter, and rain, and cold…but even so, it would be England.

We had nothing on the agenda today but rambling around Broadway, and maybe a walk in the late afternoon.

Strolling along the, by now, well-known path from Old Orchard to Broadway, we were struck anew by the historic homes lining the road, with small paned windows and peaked gables, gardens filled with the flowers in season, old drystone walls…views across the road into the fields and hills, some ploughed, some green and glowing in the sunlight.

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Our first stop was for lunch at the Crown & Trumpet pub and inn, which is the pub closest to the house.

It’s cozy and very English, with a black and white cat acting as major domo, and laboring under the name “Fattas Cattas.” He joined us at table for lunch, nestling down on my backpack, after insisting on offering a paw to David (not crazy about cats)…

The food was, as usual, delicious, and the leek and potato soup was outstanding. Half pints were ordered. After which, I tried the apple/rhubarb crumble (a little dry but the custard helped.)

We left the pub and meandered into town, stopping at the Broadway Deli on the High Street for provisions – and they had some wonderful stuff; we were hard put to leave without buying out the store – the array of cheeses alone was impressive. Finally pulling ourselves away, we looked into and around the various small shops. David had wanted some lavender items for friends back home, but oddly enough, even with the lavender farm just down the road outside Snowshill, we could not find anything. We decided to have another look the next day.

On the way back to Old Orchard, as usual looking at everything and anything that crossed my path, I saw – to my delight – what looked like a conker. We were standing beneath a grand old chestnut tree, and the ground was covered in them. Naturally, I had to immediately break into verse:

Beneath the spreading chestnut tree

A village smithy stands

The smith, a mighty man is he

With large and sinewy hands

And the muscles on his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands.

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David perhaps wasn’t amused to be asked to stand beneath the chestnut tree as I took photographs…especially when I burst into verse, as it were, but there you are! It seemed to fit!

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Then I gathered up a couple of conkers, and we wended our way home. The soft light and the beauty of the house and grounds immediately called for more photographs. I left David at the house, and went for a lovely short walk towards Snowshill.

These walks are full of the most appealing and intrinsically English images. St. Edburgha’s Church, a small Norman church standing in a field…

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A drystone wall …

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A sign for the Broadway Cricket Club…

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A footpath through the fields….

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A lonely tractor in a farrowed field…

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And more. The English countryside at its most iconic.

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When I returned to Old Orchard, we decided to settle in for the night with some old TV shows. Appropriately enough, the first one we found was “To the Manor Born”… Seemed appropriate, and it was still, after all these years, witty and clever.

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When I turned in for the night, I left the window ajar…the air was cool and sweet, and sleep came quickly. I was trying to live in the moment and not let this lovely journey pass me by casually and without acknowledgement. I’ll never forget this particular trip…and we still have four more days to come!

 

Stanton and Snowshill, The Cotswolds – Chapter 5

Stanton, The Cotswolds

Stanton and Snowshill, the Cotswolds – Chapter 5

Wednesday, August 30…The morning was one of those delightful easygoing and sunny mornings when nothing was immediate or demanding, and doing anything (or not doing anything) was a pleasure.

As usual, I wandered around the grounds of Old Orchard’s beautiful garden, picked some apples and plums in the orchard for Steve and myself, and sat on the bench in the back overlooking the green fields and ever-grazing sheep, just inhaling the fresh air.

We had booked Steve for a trip to Snowshill, and he had added Stanton as a first stop, so at 2:30 he picked us up.  (Advertising push here: Cotswold Executive Cabs – fabulous!)

About three miles from Broadway, the village of Stanton is absolutely delightful.

It only has a population of about 200! (Can I make it 201?) Overcast when we first arrived, the recalcitrant sun popped back out, to showcase the allure of the homes and surroundings.

Stanton has a High Street and a pub, The Mount, which for some reason (rare for us) we did not check out (next time!)

The houses, as is usual here, are built almost entirely of the butter-yellow Cotswold limestone, and a small street which we stopped to photograph wound downhill through the greenery.

Surrounded in part by woods…

village walls were ivy covered…a pansy grew from a stone…climbing roses bloomed…views of the rolling Cotswold hills were seen through a framework of old, old trees and houses… I walked around in a happy dream.

Our next stop was Snowshill Manor, an old manor house built by an eccentric gentleman by the name of Charles Wade.

Back garden of Snowshill Manor

He collected a very wide variety of objects, gadgets, art and thingamajigs from all over the world, and these were displayed throughout his house, rather willy-nilly. Some people find this creepy; I rather like the idea of this old gentleman gathering items from his travels whether they had any value or not and just because…

After all, what is England without eccentricity?

Snowshill Manor ivy covered wall

As I’d been here and toured the manor once before, I stuck to the gardens while David took a quick tour through the house.

The gardens had an end-of-the-season feel to them, but the old stonework of the walls, steps, buildings and so on was still lovely, the ivy-covered walls and ripening fruit really enchanting.

Garden seat at Snowshill Manor

We stopped for a quick cup of tea and a scone at the little teahouse

Snowshill Manor teahouse

then left to ramble onto Snowshill itself, which I’d been wanting to revisit since I first stepped toe onto Cotswold soil. The narrow road was hemmed by fields and woods on either side, and we stopped to take some photographs of the far-reaching hills and fields.

Walking from Snowshill Manor to Snowshill

By the time we got to Snowshill, the weather had turned and had become rather drippy and chilly. We found the Snowshill Arms – which I kept saying “is on the green” but I couldn’t find the green (as I remembered it.) However, we did finally find the pub, only to see that it didn’t open for another 30 minutes. We huddled shivering beneath the portico when the manager drove up and took pity on us, letting us in early, saying she “hoped we wouldn’t mind if she popped upstairs to do a couple of things.” We didn’t mind a bit, especially when she served us a couple of half pints while we waited to order our dinner. And my dinner was scrumptious, an English breakfast actually and the sausage was incredibly good. Loved it! (And my new favorite thing is IPAs…how did I not know about these before?)

A little later Steve joined us for a drink and then drove us home.

Being rather damp and chilled, the first thing that crossed my mind was a hot bath. My bedroom’s master suite held a clawfoot tube, and oh! It was wonderful to dive into the bubbles and get warm.

Clawfoot tub at Old Orchard

Despite the cooling air and wet weather, it was a lovely day, and I am thrilled to add Stanton to my list of English villages that encompass everything right about England. Long may they – and the beautiful English countryside – reign!