Small Cotswolds villages – with our tour guide Steve – Chapter 4
Tuesday August 29…This is the day Steve, our tour guide, took us on a Cotswolds villages tour. It was a memorable day, among many…Steve is a terrific guide, and he had devised a splendid itinerary.
I had been hoping to see at least one park or garden designed by the wonderful landscape artist Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
Steve surprised us with a visit to his (Brown’s) first manor house and landscape, Croome Court.
Covering over 1,170 acres of manmade parkland situated between the Rivers Avon and Severn and close to Pershore, it was primarily marshland when Capability Brown was chosen by the 6th Earl of Coventry in 1751 to design both the park and the manor house.
Today, while apparently still unfinished, the grounds contain a church, lakes and islands, bridges, grottos, meandering pathways, beautiful trees and lush bushes. The stonework is wonderful. Adding to the melancholy beauty of the estate, the sky was overcast, and it was damp and a little chilly.
As early sunlight burned through intermittent cloud cover, we drove through the gently sloping hills of the Cotswolds countryside, green and golden.
Passing through many small villages, we pulled over for a few minutes off the beaten path at Elmley Castle for photographs of the Tudor-style cottages and ivy clad shops and restaurants.
We then wended our way to the two Slaughters, which straddle the banks of the River Eye.
The Slaughters name is not as bloody as it sounds; in old English, it apparently means “muddy place”…possibly! Under the now lowering English sky, we saw the meandering river crossed by stone bridges, and the charming cottages surrounding it.
Here we ate lunch at the Old Mill, a tiny riverside café run by a friend of Steve’s.
The small outdoor bathrooms (well, outdoor in the sense of not being in the cafe) had low-lying doorframes, and apparently ignoring the sign saying “Watch your head,” I immediately bashed mine against the lintel – looking and feeling rather idiotic since there was quite an audience to my momentary lapse and crossed eyes.
I didn’t feel quite so bad when, on a return visit to said bathroom, a woman coming out immediately cracked her head against the overhead beam. We both stared at one another, while I muttered consoling words to the effect of “I was an idiot myself” – no, not really but whatever! (I think they need a bigger sign!)
After lunch, we ambled along the river, as the sky continued to darken, with scudding gray clouds a backdrop to the timeless English landscape.
We wandered down the river bank, crossed over small bridges, and basically enjoyed the foliage beginning to turn an autumn-y rust and red.
And then our next stop was Burford. David had remembered a special visit there in 1979, so that was next – it’s a charming town with a lovely long ascending high street, bustling with shoppers and tourists. (I was there in September 2007, not long after the great flood.) We found the church and graveyard.
There was a lot of reconstruction going on, but I managed to take pictures of him among the sarcophagi. Talk about a walk among the tombstones!
It was time to get back in the car, and Steve drove us through Bourton-on-the-Water (“very touristy” so we didn’t stop, and I had been there in 2006) to Minster Lovell. This is a village I have never heard of, and was a delightful, absolutely charming surprise.
The old grade A-listed church, St. Kenelm’s, dates back to 14th-15th century.
Behind the church were tall lacy ruins of what used to be a great manor house set in a wide green lawn alongside the river.
Children played on the grass. I loved it…it was beautifully peaceful, really a respite from the “other world” we normally inhabit.
The village was equally wonderful.
After which, Steve wanted to take us to the Cotswolds Woolen Weavers, a terrific woolen mill in the village of Filkins housed in an 18th century barn.
It is the last company in the area to implement the traditions of woolen cloth design and manufacture, according to the site on Google.
The wool was exquisite, with a soft satiny sheen.
I plunged my hand into a basket of raw sheep’s wool, and when I withdrew it, my hand was coated in lanolin…so soft!
(I was also taken by a soap called Old Goat – nothing to do with anyone I know – just an eccentric name with a wonderful scent!)
I wanted to buy everything I saw! Steve and David helped me to choose a coat out of many (hard!) and David bought a classy wool sweater. I had to be dragged out of there kicking and screaming (internally!) I could’ve furnished my house in Houston with the sofas, chairs, blankets, throws and accessories that were displayed against the old stone walls.
After Steve pushed me into the car, he drove us back to Broadway, dropping us off at the Broadway Hotel bar for dinner. David had two martinis; I had a Guinness, with an absolutely fabulous hamburger. Seriously, it was absolutely top notch. Then, replete (very) and relaxed (even more so), we walked back along the road to Old Orchard, happy campers we. And so ended the day of our lovely satisfying tour…thank you Steve…it was the best