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Thoughts on the small villages and countryside of the Cotswolds

The Swan, Bibury

I spent a day in the Cotswolds, rambling around the small villages that I love, and wished never to leave…

Loving Bibury

Steve picked me up in Chipping Campden early on Wednesday morning, and we began our perfect day of exploration, from Minster Lovell to Stanton and Bibury, to Fillkins and Stanway, to Burford and points in between. Each village had something special to offer, and if you’re looking for the backroads of England, in countryside that doesn’t seem to have changed in more than 100 years, these villages are for you.

Iconic telephone booth and post box

Minster Lovell, to which I was introduced in 2017, continues to be an enchanting small town of crumbling ruins, delightful pathways, the old churchyard,

Crumbling church ruin, Minster Lovell

leafy lanes and chickens in the front gardens.

Minster Lovell chickens

Stanton is one of those villages I would willingly embed myself in – from the moment I discovered it a few years ago, I have loved it.

Drystone wall, Stanton

Deep bowered lanes overhung with heavy, leaf-strewn branches,

the footpaths carpeted with red and rust lichen, houses built up the gently rising hillside, their walls glowing golden in the late afternoon sunshine,

and the flowers that inhabit the gardens and scatter their scented breath over the air.

Everywhere I go, the greenness of England is always present…what would England be without it? I love the hedgerows,

the fields stretching out to low-lying hills…

white sheep dotting the landscapes in the fields…

then there are the drystone walls,

 

the iconic red of pillar boxes, old telephone booths now converted to defribrillators,

the old churchyards with headstones leaning towards the ground

gray old Norman churches against a pale blue-white sky…

Beautiful, beautiful England…loving it always…

Exploring Chipping Campden, the Great Malverns, and Broadway

 

A view from a room, Chipping Campden

FRIDAY, August 31

8PM and dusk was falling – Kettle Cottage was quiet and I sat in the tiny living room with my feet up, the stove burning merrily away, eating fresh bread and butter with farmland tomatoes and tiny-leaved watercress. I heard the church bells from St. James pealing faintly across the Chipping Campden rooftops. I found a bottle containing two gulps of blended Scotch in a cupboard in the miniscule kitchen, and it went down a treat. Poirot was on the tube, and I settled in after my first full day back in the Cotswolds.

 

At Vegetable Matters

After an uneventful and surprisingly short flight on British Airways – with absolutely grim food – we landed in London an hour early. The weather was clear and cool – the sky blue glass. Steve met me once I’d skimmed through Security and Baggage Reclaim, and we were on our way on the back roads through the charming historic small villages of the Cotswolds. High hedgerows. Winding lanes.

As my stomach was banging against my backbone, Steve suggested we stop at a farm-to-market shop and café situated on rolling English farmland. Called Vegetable Matters, the produce displayed was incredible, and not only beautiful but delish. I had a full English breakfast, and Steve a bacon bap. Yum-o – and filling (I could only eat half!)

We sat in the sun under a sky so vividly blue it reminded me of driving on the highway to Taos in New Mexico, where the sky looks like it’s painted blue every day. Fields of bright yellow sunflowers spread out around us. A red tractor sat by the low building that housed the fruits and veggies, fresh breads and butters. I stocked up!

SATURDAY, September 1

I woke up really late after a rather unsettled night, so took my time getting a shower, coffee (which I had on the deck just outside the French door to my bedroom)and figuring out what I wanted to do with my day. The beautiful morning had drifted away, and I was low on food (surprisingly). I headed to the grocery store down the High Street, picked up supplies, and trotted to the chemist which – despite a sign saying Open 1-5 – was closed and stayed closed for the day.

 

I also realized, almost from the moment of stepping foot out of the alley doorway, that I didn’t have a clue which door I stepped out of !! I was so busy talking to the owner’s father (named Ham) about which key worked where, I completely forgot to look at the door closely until I was halfway down the High. So back I turned.My house is situated in a line of row houses, most of which are not numbered but named. I knew mine was called Kettle Cottage, but being blind as a bat when I start to panic, I couldn’t see anything that remotely resembled my house. I emailed, texted and called Steve and Joanna (the owner) who were, of course, nowhere to be found.

So I ran some errands, and by dint of peering in the windows of five or six houses I thought might be the one (and luckily saw no-one inside any), I finally recognized the cobbled walkway in my alley – inserted the key in the door, and it worked!

After that bit of palaver, I put everything away and left again, determined to walk around Chipping Campden.

A short step away from home led me into a small but intensely green park – the Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden. The trees and lawns were dappled with sunlight or in deep green shadow, and the garden held small benches and statuary.  These are the small pockets of loveliness found everywhere in the Cotswolds.

From there, I followed winding lanes around the outskirts of Chipping Campden which eventually led to a beautiful field. A woman, Sandra, was walking her three dogs – one an Afghan hound – who pointed out various footpaths and trails I could take. We walked together over the grass, dogs alternately galloping, sashaying or drifting. The day was sunny and warm. It was so restorative.

On the footpath, we met a likable couple living in an absolutely charming cottage who were beekeepers.

They also had dogs, so we were surrounded by a cloud of about five of them, frolicking freely.

After a nice chat, we all parted company and I wended my way back to the High Street.

The High Street is filled with delightful shops, pubs, inns, and teashops. After window shopping and a brisk stroll, I stopped in the Noel Arms for a half pint of Guinness (or two!) And after an interval on Facebook, I then actually found my way home – noticing at this point a black kettle hung above the door of my little enclave.  Ah well…. After a light supper and some English TV, I went to bed, listening to the church bells and thinking: I am in England for sure.

SUNDAY, September 2

Steve picked me up in his new Jag at 10am to drive to the Great Malverns. I was a bit of a mess, not having slept well, and – because there’s no shampoo at the house – was unable to wash my hair!

Nonetheless, once I got over it, we were on our merry way out of Chipping Campden to the Malverns. The GPS in the car then somehow directed us to a route unknown to Steve. I just enjoyed the ride, noting down the eccentric silly names of English villages we passed through, such as Wyre Piddle, Upton Snodsbury, and Sneachill. I also love the English road signs, with one of my favorites: Elderly People Crossing.

We were keeping our eyes out for the tallest Malvern (not so tall at 1300 feet) but we finally gave up on that, and parked at a café and pub Steve knew about at the base of the first hill we came to.

The day started off cloudy and windblown, but after a quick lunch at the pub – which included the de rigeur half pint – the sun re-emerged – and we enjoyed climbing the foothill on such a gorgeous sunny day.

The views were incredible! I should have hiked more than I did, as I only managed two and a half hours…

The breeze was fresh, the sun was shining, you could see for miles all around…stunning.

On our return, we tried to find Little Malvern – but that was a non-starter. So we just went with the flow. Steve stopped at a lovely little church on the way home, where we wandered through the beautifully kept graveyard, along the stone walls and over the green green grass, spiced with tree shadows from the late afternoon sun.

A quick stop to pick up shampoo and Elderberry/Peach Cordial at a village grocery, and I was home around 5 o’clock, ready to sit down with a cuppa, check emails, post some photos on Facebook…. I made myself a cheese and tomato sandwich which I washed down with the cordial – delish! Once again, I didn’t get to sleep until early morning, which is why I’m always so late getting started the next day!

MONDAY, September 3

Well, big relief…finally got to wash my hair! In order to see what I was doing – as there was one plug in my room – I pulled a large mirror from the wall and propped it on the windowsill near said plug. Worked like a charm!

Then I was out the door onto Chipping Campden’s High Street. When I booked my cottage, I specifically wished, on this visit, to stay in a village and be able to walk to shops, teashops, pubs, and grocer. I was situated on the far end of the High, which was close to fields and footpaths, the other direction leading into the town.

I wandered past houses and shops viewed in years past, loving to see that so much remained the same. Badger’s Hall, the old alms houses, the big willow tree over the square, the paned windows of the tiny pubs and inns…all as I had remembered them.

I turned on Sheep Street to see the iconic thatched cottage at its head that had so enchanted me and David last year. The stone dogs still kept watch, and the cottage itself is a throwback in time.

The back streets of Chipping Campden offer a wealth of magical views of ivy covered cottages,

 

 

farms and manor houses peering over gray drystone walls and through greenery…

red letter boxes embedded in stonework on street corners,

red and gold lichen-lined footpaths sheltered by huge oaks and chestnuts. some of which were so dense, they formed tunnels… Stepping into a storybook, everywhere you turned was a picture.

I finished my day by stopping at the Eight Bells pub, around the corner from my cottage. It was quiet for an hour, as I drank my IPA (half pint) and checked photos and emails. I finished up with fish and chips and once again wended my way home in the twilight.

TUESDAY, September 4

On the road again… About 10:30, Steve picked me up and we drove to Broadway (how I love this Cotswolds village!) in a slight mizzle. He dropped me at the Swan, where I hoped to have a bit of breakfast, but no such luck, as they didn’t offer breakfast during the week. I downed a latte, and since their WiFi wasn’t working, walked out onto the High to find a café that did serve a good English breakfast. Luckily, I beat the rush into Hunter’s teashop, ordered the half breakfast, and downloaded their WiFi which worked beautifully (I never thought I’d see the day when I’d say that!) Breakfast included: one sausage, two rashers of English bacon, scrambled eggs, fried tomato, toast and tea. And that’s a half ! Delish!

After which I hoofed it down the High trying to find an ATM. I find it alternately maddening and ridiculous that I am so caught up (while travelling) in the ways of the modern world when it comes to communication and money. Spending time trying to find somewhere I could access my cell phone and check emails, messages and FB. And then roaming the High Street in one of the loveliest towns in the Cotswolds looking for an ATM. Well, honestly.

I popped into a realtor’s office where its one occupant – while pleasant as could be – looked at me blankly when I asked her where I could find the nearest ATM. Leaving her to it, I next popped into an art gallery, apologetically asking the same question of a man who obviously knew I wasn’t in there to spend oodles of money on a painting! But, he was very nice and pointed me in the right direction –which, of course, was at the very opposite end of Broadway. I found the ATM next to Budgen’s…David and I stopped there many times last year, and I can’t believe I couldn’t remember that! Now I could call my life my own once again and get back on the byways and footpaths.

 

The first thing I wanted to do was walk the Snowshill Road from Broadway past Old Orchard, where David and I had stayed a year ago. The weather had cleared, and it was cool and fresh walking. Lovely!

I found Old Orchard and sighed as I looked through the gate at its fabulous grounds. Of everywhere I’ve ever stayed, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in. The grass was green, smooth as paint and beautifully manicured as always by Mike, its gardener…the gravel drive was raked perfectly, and the trees drooped gracefully in late summer splendor.

Well, moving on.

A magical doorway along the Snowshill Road, between Broadway and Snowshill

I continued walking towards Snowshill, taking in – and photographing – a delightful row of apple trees covered with the red apples of autumn,

passing riders coming down the lane,

the glorious fields, farms and far vistas seen from the road,

the vine-covered houses and manors and small church with its graveyard, and the sign for the cricket club,

and the sheep nibbling the grass in the meadows.

A couple of hours later, I finally turned back towards Broadway when the lane became a little too twisty and narrow with no verge to leap onto when the Formula One drivers came tearing around the curves.

Just kidding about the Formula One drivers!

Back in Broadway, I decided I needed a cream tea, which the Lygon Arms thoughtfully provided: Two hot raisin scones, clotted cream and two sorts of jam, plus lemon verbena tea. Fourteen pounds including tip. Wonderful – although I could only eat one scone.

I texted Steve to let him know it would be between 4-5pm when ready to be picked up, and went on my merry way to find the Cotswolds Way. I had an hour.

Well, okay, so the Cotswolds Way is over 100 miles long. Maybe I can’t do it in an hour…but maybe a mile or two?

I did find one sign pointing me to one part of the Way through the fields, which I followed for about 45 minutes. When I finally came to the conclusion this was not the Cotswolds Way stretch that David and I had walked in 2017, I thought it the better part of valor to turn back and get a half pint – again, at the Lygon Arms.

 

Nice place!

 

Tina, Steve’s wife, picked me up at the accredited time and I was home shortly before 5. Lost my WiFi again…

 

It was a lovely day. I just keep eating and drinking my way around the Cotswolds! But as JFK said about accompanying Jackie to Paris: I have enjoyed it!

Next: The iconic small village ramble – stay tuned!

 

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 really idyllic!

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 with trees in full foliage and a view of the ocean to die for.

A pebble beach prompted poignant and wonderful memories of seasides while I lived as 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. One note: I miss the big red buses that used to populate England from end to end. Now we only see them in London.

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

And then a drive through Shanklin (see below)… a lovely English village on an island chock-full of them.

We drove back to Yelf’s, where Joanna and I had dinner in its delightful 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 that never ceases to enchant me.

 

 

 

Hiking in England: From the deep country to St. Michael’s Mount and The Sign of the Angel

A field outside Lacock

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 a bed with a bathroom – 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) as well as revisit the Cotswolds. I had never been to the Cotswolds and Diane knew it well. So off we set….

I arrived at Gatwick right on time, and Diane waved madly across the baggage. Our first stop was the Cotswolds. We picked up the rental car, and we were on our merry way to Broadway, a beautiful small town full of atmosphere and charm. On the other side of Broadway in Wilversey, we found Lowerfield Farm, surrounded by quiet fields and country roads. It was a pretty, yellow-painted, two story stone farmhouse, with an appealing landscaped garden. Diane and I were so tired and cold when we arrived, we asked our hostess if we could get some heat turned on – but we forgot we were in England….she looked rather taken aback, saying “We don’t turn on the heat until late September!”

The bathroom had a marvelous deep tub – great for warming up. After a good soak, I climbed into bed and fell fast asleep. At 4PM, awake and ready to eat, we drove into Broadway. The overcast skies had cleared, and the sun appeared. We rambled down 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 was not busy (at that time of year, anyway.)

A view from a bridge

A tiny pub and restaurant called The Horse & Hounds looked inviting, and a young Polish waiter with a long brown ponytail waited on us; he was very sweet. Diane and I shared a bruschetta dish (yummy), then it was on to pasta primavera, finishing off with strawberries and cream (me) and strawberries and custard (Diane)- absolutely wonderfully delicious. Unfortunately, we forgot to tip our delightful waiter…

Back at Lowerfield Farm, we found our hosts had turned on the central heat – just for us (primarily me, being a cold-blooded type). Diane planned out our Cotswold Walks – and we were once 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 had an explosive toilet….

Lowerfield Farm, a view from the window the morning of the hunt

We view the hunt 

Up at 7:30, we prepared for breakfast at 8:30: Muesli, cream, coffee, pears from the garden, yoghurt and hot chocolate! Thank the lord we were hiking! As we were in the middle of breakfast, a hunt came through: we saw 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 were beautiful! Our next-table neighbors were three delightful ladies, who 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 

In Bibury

After breakfast we drove to Bibury to begin our first hike – Bibury is a beautiful little Cotswolds village with a river running through it. I was so nervous about driving on the left hand side, not to mention fielding the roundabouts. But we made it to the parking lot, and began our 6 mile walk through completely entrancing countryside – small woods, rolling hills, tiny streams. The weather was  incredible: blue skies, sunshine, warm – we started off in jackets, ended up in t-shirts. This walk took about 2-l/2 hours.

Another Bibury view

It took us back into Bibury by a different footpath, where we had lunch at The Swan Hotel, an historic old ivy-covered hotel overlooking the river. Diane had carrot soup, I had chicken tikka and chips! After this repaste, we drove to Burford to begin our second hike, which took about three hours. All told, we hiked about twelve miles today – nice!

Walking through fields of golden wheat

This particular hike was through fields of wheat cut for the winter – the imagery was gorgeous…then it’s back roads, and copses, til we reached a narrow river called the Windrush, where we saw enchanting white swans.

A swan on the Windrush

We walked through companies of cows, sheaves of sheep, and pheasants galore! Then it’s on to Stowe-on-the Wolde, where we had a light dinner (salads with feta cheese and lots of ciabatta bread…)

The Swan Hotel in Bibury

It was dark by this time, so back to Lowerfield Farm. The Cotswolds are beautiful, beautiful. I love Broadway and Bibury – small and lovely iconic English villages. But I felt really tired  — stress and jet lag catching up with me!

Stanton, Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland and Laverton

Hiking to Stanton

We were up at 7:30 as usual, and had a big breakfast: Muesli, egg and bacon, coffee. Then it’s on the road for a short drive to Stanton, which is (yet another) charming little village. First a word about the weather: it continued to astonish us how incredibly gorgeous it was. The skies had drifts of a few white clouds but the sun was shining madly, and it was 80 degrees. Everyone we met was delighted with the continuous sunshine. It was so refreshing; keeping it “hikeable” was a lovely crisp breeze. At night, the sky was clear as a bell, and the moon a harvest moon, immense and golden in the black Cotswolds sky.

An old English church graveyard

Anyway: we drove to Stanton and parked 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 started before 10AM, and finished around 4PM.

Laverton

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 met a group of about twenty men and women, approximately our ages, led by a local guide. She said the men loved to talk to us “young sprigs” and we appreciated the sentiment! This is the leg of the hike that led up the steepest hill for about 30 minutes, and left me breathing hard (it wasn’t that high – I’m such a wuss). When we arrived at the top, the whole of the Cotswolds lay before us. Pictures I have seen cannot begin to describe the beauty.

Somewhere in the Cotswolds

We then hiked along a part of the Cotswolds Way, through fields, woods, over many stiles and through many gates. We walked 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 left us in Snowshill, where they stopped to picnic in the old church graveyard, while Diane and I had a pub lunch – ploughman’s (cheese, bread, pickles). The sun continued to shine as we continued over hill and dale.

On a downward trek, we met a delightful woman named Maury who was in training for a hike for a cancer group, along the Great Wall of China. We had a fun conversation for half an hour, then she wound her way to somewhere else, and we continued through the fields to Stanton. We hoped. We weren’t sure where we were parked, so we walked the town and finally asked a friendly old man sitting on a bench beneath a tree: “Where are we?”

It turns out we were actually in Laverton — NOT Stanton — and were given straightforward directions to a stile around a corner down a street, then 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 came to Stanton’s church spire, wound back through a farm, and found our car parked at the Cricket Club, where a match was taking place. Fun to watch, incomprehensible to figure out! But so nice to see those cricket whites once again.

From the top of the Broadway Folly you can get 360 degree view of the Cotswolds

Back in the car, Diane drove to the Broadway Folly, situated atop a hill, from which we got an astounding view 360 degrees of the Cotswolds. Fabulous!

Then it was back to our B&B, where we freshened up and drove 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 was back to Lowerfield Farm, and so to bed. We were definitely hoping for more of this supremely gorgeous weather tomorrow, as this would be our longest hike.

Lower Slaughter, Naunton, Bourton-on-the-Water

7:30 and we’re down to breakfast (the usual fabulous feast) and by 9-ish, we were on the road for Bourton-on-the-Water, where we began our hike (about ten miles round trip, longer with side trips). We hiked through prosperous-looking farms, over farmland, through woods, besides rivers and streams – through Lower Slaughter.

On the way to Bourton-on-the-Water

A picnic lunch of crusty rolls, cheese and tomatoes in a field far from anywhere was a nice break. Then it was on to Upper Slaughter where we stopped in a pub for a drink – fabulous, incredible 80 degree weather.

Sky clear as glass. Then on to Naunton, across grassy ridges, through more woods and fields and eventually back to Bourton-on-the-Water.

Bourton-on-the-Water

The day was supremely beautiful. Why I even bothered carrying a rain jacket in my backpack I don’t know. I was actually tanning! My arms were brown as a berry. Not that many people are out and about, surprisingly. We saw a few – a very few – on the trail, and they were all very pleasant.

The mists of time

Back at Lowerfield Farm. Richard, our host, was a delightful man. We only saw him in an apron serving us breakfast, but he was invariably chipper and friendly. His wife, Jane, on the other hand, was  very distant. Richard was all jolly hockey sticks, cheery and pip-pip. I liked that. What a really lovely four days. Beautiful weather, fascinating hikes where we saw the “real” Cotswolds – real back-in-time tiny hamlets that are truly “old England.”

Dartmoor and the Warren Hill Inn

A view of Dartmoor across from the Inn

We left Lowerfield Farm (sob) and drove to the M-5, all the way to Liskeard (I was driving.) We stopped off in Chudleigh for lunch, where Diane took over. From there, it was on to Dartmoor National Park. I loved it!! So wild and desolate and full of sheep and wild ponies. Beautiful. You could imagine Heathcliff and Cathy running across the heather.

Wild ponies on Dartmoor’s heath

The sun shone 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 stopped for a drink. It was a little cool out on the moors, so a wood fire was burning in the fireplace, and it was a true old-timey pub atmosphere, deep and dark. We chatted for a while with a man from Bath (incredibly crusty accent) who was looking at properties to buy for leasing to visitors. He was extremely friendly – took our pictures without a murmur.

Diane and I in front of The Warren Hill Inn in the middle of Dartmoor

 Talland Bay – and Allhays

From Warren Hill, we drove down narrow, then narrower, then even narrower lanes with high hedgerows. Through tiny villages and hamlets we drove and through some of the loveliest countryside (Dorset) which is every bit as delightful as the Cotswolds. We drove all the way to Looe, and then found Allhays on Talland Bay.

Beautiful Allhays B&B in Talland Bay

Allhays was a very lovely B&B off the beaten path <and I am very sorry to say it has since closed>. Situated on Talland Bay, between Looe and Polperro, its cream-colored stone glowed in the late afternoon light, and its bushes were heavy with hydrangeas surrounding it. The interior living room (for guests) had two lovely cream colored, soft chenille sofas, and the whole house had the French touch, with patterned draperies, beautiful pictures, and the woodwork painted in heavy high gloss cream. The carpet was cream bordering on ecru up the stairs. Annie, (one of our hosts, and French), had placed a fresh yellow rose in our lovely bedroom on the second story. The bedroom overlooked the lawn in back which led to the view of the cliffs and then the sparkling sea.

Our bathroom was the size of a pea.

When we were ready for dinner, Diane could not 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  turned up in her purse. And so it goes….

Onward to dinner in Polperro. Yum-o. (The loo had toilet seats of fish embedded in plastic.) Back in the car on the way back to Allhays, we missed the turn in the very dark road, drove all the way to Looe and back before we finally found Allhays. Talk about two tired girls…

A tiny Polperro lane

 Polperro – a real step back in time

We were up around 7:30 and had a traditional, and delicious, English breakfast in Allhays’ sunlit breakfast room. The room was nothing but windows which looked out onto the back “garden” and all the way over the cliffs to the sea. Incredible views. Breakfast included muesli, yoghurt, homemade bread and jams, etc. Mowgli joined 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 was 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), but she seemed to settle down on the landing.

On the way to Polperro

This morning we set off on our hike to Polperro (two miles coastal). A fabulous walk – all downhill – along coastal beauty that is almost ethereal. We reached Polperro, and stocked up for lunch. Me: Cornish pasty, crusty roll (still uneaten), and a tomato.

Hiking the cliffs to Polperro

I had a banana in my backpack. Diane had grapes and a raisin scone. We wandered around Polperro, and I found 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 rambled around and window shopped, taking pictures of the harbor, the sun shining brightly on this attractive little fishing village.

The harbor at Polperro

Then we were off on our challenging cliff walk from Polperro, round the point, then up and over the fields. The sun was intense, and the sky was clear and deep blue, while the water seen down below was silver blue. Fairy tale.

Crumbling ruin in the middle of a field on the cliffs

We walked and walked and WALKED – 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 had been walking since 10AM, and it was now 3 o’clock. I LOVED it.

I will never tire of hiking these marvelous cliffs

Back in Polperro, we stopped for a lemonade (why does the lemonade taste so much better here than at home?) and still had 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 were alive with butterflies, fluttering everywhere, and the hum of the bees. We finally reached Allhays in time for a shower and then it was out to dinner. Our dinner lasted three hours – we talked non-stop. Then it was back to Allhays down the dark high hedge-lined lanes. We figure we’ve clocked in about 45-50 miles to date.

The back of Allhays seen from the breakfast nook

 Over the hills and far away: Fowey, Bodinnick, Polruan, Mevagissey

Woke up at 7:30 to another glorious day. The view from our bedroom window was 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 was not as challenging as yesterday’s, but it was just as beautiful, and a little cooler, although the sun continued to shine shine shine.

Fowey’s harbour

We walked 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 looked like a mirage –incredibly clear, incredibly beautiful under the sun, and stretching to the far blue horizon.

Over the hills…

We had eaten a good breakfast, and weren’t hungry, until we came back around through Polruan, where we stopped for a quick bite. It was very interesting and odd that we met 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!

And far away…

Fowey (pronounced Foy) is a pretty town. Lots of people were out and about, as they were 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 were not supposed to feed the seagulls. They’re “dirty” and “dangerous” birds, according to one old-timer. One bird even had a “Wanted” poster – full face, left and right profile…

An incredible view of the bay

The Fowey/Polruan hike was wonderful – weather, sunshine, paths, views, length of hike and nice people everywhere. “Where are you from?” is the ubiquitous question. So many people had been to Florida or Texas. One man sitting on the bench atop the cliffwalk asked “What do the American people now think of Bush?”, and we ask about Blair (“Some question his honesty!”)

Fields like this are part of Cornwall’s charm

We caught the ferry back from Polruan to Fowey, and then another from Fowey to Bodinnick. Our car park was up an extremely steep road – took about half an hour to reach it. We then decided 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 were certainly enough bookstores prominently displaying her books, her photographs and other memorabilia – but Mevagissey was such a letdown. It was 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 – was totally undistinguished. We walked around for half an hour, then got our car and drive back – in rush hour traffic – to the ferry, then we stopped 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 Allhays by 9:30 (sob) after our usual yummy breakfast, which this time included stewed plums. The day was overcast – our first overcast day since arriving. We drove 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 found Tourist Information, and they found 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 was a cracker: you flushed, and it sounded much like a steam engine coming to boil … then it was a bang and a BANG BANG BANG CLATTER CLATTERCLATTERCLATTER!! Incredible. The noise seemed to go on for ages. And the tap over the sink also startled you out of your wits when you turned it on, causing another major BANG from the toilet.

From the sublime to the ridiculous! Actually, it was funny as hell. We couldn’t help laughing because it was so uniquely LOUD.

The ferry from Marazion to St Michael’s Mount

Anyway, we left the luggage and drove into Marazion, parked and took the ferry to St. Michael’s Mount. Filled with history, beautiful and eerie. We walked uphill to the top of the mount, and toured the castle and the grounds. The “docents” in the castle (for want of a better word) were 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.”  In re-reading this, I think: How very Downton Abbey!

The road up to the castle

After exploring, we walked back down the (very very steep) hill to the causeway. By now, the tide was out and we were able to actually walk back to the mainland (Diane loved this! and so did I!)

The tide is out, enabling us to walk the causeway back to the mainland

Then it’s back to our odd little B&B. After some discussion, we decided to drive to Land’s End (at 5PM) for a quick 1-2 hour hike across the cliffs there.

First and last refreshment house in England - Land's End

First and last refreshment house in England – Land’s End

On reaching Land’s End, we quickly parked and walked through the tourist excrescence fronting the cliffs. There were one or two couples around, and it was very quiet and dim, heavy clouds scudding across the sky.

Dusk at Land’s End

We ambled across the slowly eroding cliffs for about 1-1/2 hours as the twilight deepened, and the wind blew, making it all very mysterious and atmospheric.

Hiking at Land’s End

We then drove back 12 miles to Marazion, leaving our car at the B&B, and walked to the King’s Arms for dinner (the dinner took 2 hours arriving!). Then back to our B&B and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, Lacock and Castle Combe!

Lacock’s main street

Lacock – at the Sign of the Angel – and Castle Combe 

We were up and out of the B&B in Marazion by 9, after a hearty breakfast (surprisingly good.) Then it was driving, driving and more driving. We drove through Glastonbury, but did not stop. This was 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 was Glastonbury…maybe it’s me. Nonetheless, we have driven through beautiful country, and we were now in Wiltshire, just coming into Lacock, around 5PM. This is where “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed (is there any other Mr. Darcy than Colin Firth? I think not.)

The Sign of the Angel in Lacock

What an exquisite little town! It’s fifteenth century, and owned by the National Trust. We were lucky enough to get two rooms in The Sign of the Angel, where we ducked down through the doors, and where the floors all sloped. The rooms were enchanting, and as no twin bedded-room was available we opted to each have our own room. Both were en-suite, with big bathtubs to wallow in, which we did! My room was painted deep pink, with burgundy carpet, white iron queen sized bed, feather pillows and bolsters, old antique furniture – and somewhere, there was a resident ghost! It said so on the little marquee in the old hallway.

The George pub and inn in Lacock

This afternoon, the sun was back out and after wandering around the town (which takes about 5 minutes), Diane and I bought English newspapers and took them to the adorable little pub, The George. The door was open wide and inside it was everything a pub should be – and more. I ordered a cuppa, and Diane an apple cider, and we sat in a corner and I read the Guardian – so very civilized and literary as we were. I loved this place.

The small restaurant at Sign of the Angel

Next was dinner. Downstairs was 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. Excuses, excuses…)

After dinner, Diane and I walked 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…)

Lacock’s charming houses

The windows in several houses were uncurtained and we were able to look into the glowing small yellow-lit living rooms and dining rooms of these ancient homes built in the time of Shakespeare.

Then we packed for the drive back to Gatwick tomorrow, (after we see Castle Combe) and I’m 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.

Castle Combe

Up early to breakfast downstairs… We had porridge with brown sugar and cream! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven (there’s the sign, you see.) We were also offered fresh raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and a hot breakfast.

It was a misty morning as we left Lacock for Castle Combe. We took a wrong turn somewhere, but managed to eventually find the road, passing through towns called Tiddleywinks and Shepton Mallet, to yet another entrancing small village. We parked in the car park, and walked down a steep hill right into Jane Austen country.

An early morning walk in Castle Combe

Beautiful (for want of a better word) tiny stone and brick homes and shops framed in ivy, or flowering or berried vines. We wandered about the town in a happy daze, then began our hike through the surrounding countryside. The morning mist slowly began to burn away with the sun eventually breaking through, and the day clears as we walked in quiet woods where beech leaves dropped to the ground, sounding like the patter of tiny feet following us.

A walk around Castle Combe

Across fields and climbing over stiles and gates and crossing streams, we managed to again get lost! We finally found the main road behind a farm, and wound up at Castle Combe, where we stopped at a most adorable little pub for a quick drink. Then we rambled around a delightful tiny shop that has the most perfect things: pictures, objets, pottery, photography — all so beautiful, you wanted to buy out the shop. I didn’t (surprise!) but Diane made some inroads…

Lunch at the Castle Inn Hotel – more cheese

Then it was back to our lovely elegant pub for a quick lunch. We sat outside in the sunshine, watching as about 30 Japanese wandered into town. Moments later, about 15 bikers zoomed in and parked in the square. Even here, time doesn’t stand still….

And as it moves on,  we had to begin thinking of getting on our way. We walked back up the hill to the car park, the sun by now shining so brilliantly, it was intensely hot. And then it was on the road to our hotel at Gatwick, a quick bath and dinner, and so to bed. We had to be ready 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.

Hiking in Ireland: From the dear old Temple Bar to the Cliffs of Moher

Glendalough

Hiking in Glendalough

On this particular hike, I didn’t join a hiking group…Diane and I had decided to work out this hike ourselves, and it really did turn out incredibly well. We saw areas of Ireland I doubt we’d have experienced with a group (not that I don’t love travelling with groups – they really are a great option when you don’t speak the language!)

We flew into Dublin on Tuesday and stayed overnight in a charming Georgian boutique hotel called No. 31. Breakfast at No. 31 was delicious and extensive…almost anything you wanted to eat, we could have…and we almost did!

A street in Dublin

A street in Dublin

After a few hours catch-up snooze, we wandered across St. Stephen’s Green and down Grafton Street, tried to get into Trinity to see the Book of Kells, but it was closed. We stopped for a late lunch/dinner at a restaurant called the Elephant and Castle…again, the food was delicious! Fabulous bruschetta…both Diane and I devoured it. And the weather was splendid…brilliant sunshine. I also had a Guinness in the Temple Bar…what a treat! You feel as if you might come across Edna O’Brien or James Joyce somewhere around a corner…

The dear old Temple Bar, Dublin

COUNTY WICKLOW, GLENDALOUGH, EAST COAST

The next morning, in bright sunlight, we picked up our rent car and drove to County Wicklow. We stayed in a B&B called Barraderry House, which was built in the 1700s. Beautiful stone, set in a gorgeous garden, and way off the beaten path. We ate dinner that night in a delightful dark, beam-hung pub, and had an hour’s conversation with a quintessential Irishman named John, who told us he’d given up “the drink” 20 years ago at the behest of his children. We heard his life story, and told him some of ours…a thoroughly enjoyable chat with someone who looked exactly like Michilin in “The Quiet Man!”

The road to Glendalough

By the way, no smoking is allowed in Irish pubs any more…not that I care, but there was something about those smoky old pubs…

Olive and John were our hosts here at Barraderry…they were just delightful, and John was another epitome of a little Irishman…charming as all get out; we talked for about 20 minutes about Ireland, politics and the like, and then he gave me and Diane a great big kiss on our cheeks.

The next day (Thursday), we packed our bags, and then took off for a four hour hike around Glendalough…two lakes, surrounded by mountains…wild, isolated and incredibly beautiful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lake in Glendalough

I was a little tired by the time we were through…lots of climbing! But really a good hike. That night we had dinner at a quiet restaurant, and afterwards, climbed into our little beds ready for sleep.

Hiking in Glendalough

THE WEST COAST

DOOLIN

Friday morning, we took off across Ireland for the West Coast, and a little town called Doolin. On the way we had a flat tire. It was hilarious although worrying as Diane ran onto the road trying to find someone – anyone – who could help us. We were in the middle of nowhere, and nothing was in sight for miles…we were definitely beginning to wonder if an unplanned hike was in the offing. Then, in the distance…finally! a car with two couples stopped to help us…wonderful people, two of whom were visiting from the Netherlands. We were on our way again in 20 minutes, breathing a sigh of relief.

We got into the very tiny town of Doolin…rain pouring down by this time. Bought a new tire, and then parked our bags at St. Catherine’s Farmhouse just outside Doolin. That night we ate at an enchanting new restaurant, and had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was cod, but done so delicately with such a great glaze, it could have floated right off the plate…and potatoes to die for…fabulous Irish brown bread. Yum!!

Our host at St. Catherine’s Farmhouse, Maria, was very very special. She gave us big hugs, and wanted to know what our plans were …helpful, and kind, in every way. Just a dear, wonderful woman.

The Cliffs of Moher

The next morning (Saturday) was sunny, so we drove 10 minutes to the Cliffs of Moher. We hiked along these fabled cliffs for five miles, by which time the fog rolled in. The cliffs are beautiful, but erosion makes walking the path along the edge very dicey in places…we remembered “Ryan’s Daughter” some of which was filmed on these very cliffs…lovely to be here.

After that little walk, we got in the car, found something to eat, and then drove into the Burren…which is a wild and lonely place. It meanders on for miles and miles…green marshes and mountains with huge boulders all over. I liked it! Our goal was the Burren Perfumery which is in the middle of nowhere; it wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be – no miles of flower and herb gardens, just a tiny shop and tearoom, but fun nonetheless. We bought some pretty soap at the shop, and had scones in the tea room. Diane had a scone, and I had a scone with clotted cream and jam!

The Burren

The Burren

It was raining by this time, so we needed to get back on the road!

That evening, we decided to go back to our enchanting restaurant, but unfortunately, it was completely booked. We tried four more restaurants – all booked…it seemed no restaurant (in such a small town!) had a table. In desperation, we got in the car and drove out of town onto the darkest, loneliest of roads on the way to Lisdoonvarna (aren’t the names of Irish towns poetic?) – by this time, the rain was pouring down, you couldn’t see a star and it was completely EMPTY of habitation! Nonetheless, we beavered on…and just up ahead, saw a tiny spark in the darkness.

“Pull over” cried Diane, and we got out of the car and walked into the most Irish, and charming, of small restaurants, in the middle of blackness, in the middle of nowhere. A tiny dim oak-beamed bar with about four tables, a huge fireplace all alight, and the friendliest waitress…who happened to be from Boston and had moved here 20 years ago. No-one else but us. By this time we were starving … we dined on a marvelous puree of vegetable soup, the wonderful brown soda bread, and a fabulous salad…it was incredible. Such an adventure…!! all in the middle of empty moors and hills, in the night’s darkness.

GALWAY, FERMOYLE LODGE

Sunday morning we took off for Galway County and Fermoyle Lodge. This was a long, long drive. Remember we drive on the left hand side over in Ireland? That was quite an adventure in itself. Anyway, Fermoyle Lodge was located in the middle of NOWHERE (as are most of our stops)…but was an extremely charming manor house surrounded by hydrangeas, rhododendrons and flowers of all kinds, and the manor itself was set in a grove of fir trees.

Fermoyle Lodge lost in the heart of Ireland

It’s enormously welcoming…beautiful stuffed furniture and antiques…big log fire in the fireplaces…wonderful hosts (Nicola and Jean-Pierre)…oh what a fabulous place. The house is stone, two story, and very old. Our room overlooked the lake. We met two delightful couples there. Marsha and Jerry were from North Carolina in the U.S.and Gabrielle and Alex from England and Scotland, respectively. I fell in love with Alex, and will always remember him. He was gorgeous, quiet spoken, intelligent, well-traveled … and extremely good looking! Lucky Gabrielle!

We went for a quick walk up a mountain with Marsha and Jerry, and then once again, had to drive an hour and a half to find an inn for our supper. We also stopped into a tiny grocery store again for supplies…I love those little grocery shops, small and intimate…and I love the Irish newspapers! So much fun to read that side of the world’s take on things back home in the good old U.S.

Back we walked to beautiful Fermoyle. Now, the only thing about Fermoyle is the water: PEAT BROWN…our baths looked like flat brown beer, and when I added shampoo to see if that would help, it just looked like FOAMY brown beer!

Also the shower: to say it had a life of its own is a misnomer. The first time I used the handheld grip, it took off and SOAKED the entire bathroom …carpet, antiques and all. Nicola and Jean-Pierre were NOT amused, as they spent all morning trying to dry it out.

The next morning (Monday) we actually found a hike we could walk. We drove to the start of it, about two hours from Fermoyle Lodge. Then we walked through green, dense woods, over streams, to a wonderful castle which had been turned into a hotel; we had lunch in its pub. So special and lovely.

A small island on a river in Ireland

Unfortunately, the rest of our hike was spiked, as loggers had felled many trees, and blocked the trail. We turned back the way we came, and found our car…this hike took about four hours all told. Although not long enough, we both enjoyed it immensely. We spent that night at Fermoyle Lodge, and dined that evening at the Lodge. Jean-Pierre is a French chef, and was a little disappointed when Diane just wanted a salad… I had a salad too, but gave in and had dessert as well. Another yummy meal…talk about eating one’s way through Ireland!

CONG, “THE QUIET MAN”, AND ASHFORD CASTLE

Ashford Castle

Tuesday, we again set off: this time to a tiny historic town called Cong in (I think) County Mayo. The film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan was filmed here…and every pub and restaurant and hotel is named after one of the characters in the movie, and every window is filled with photographs from the movie. Just outside the town is Ashford Castle, where we stayed for two nights…what an experience. The castle is a huge “pile” …our room was beautiful (albeit warm) and just down the hall from the boutique. One corner of the floor is given over to photographs of “important folk” who have stayed there…Brad Pitt, President Reagan, Keanu Reeves, Barbra Streisand…and the list goes on and on.

We got to Ashford Castle, found our room, put down our bags, then booked two hours of falconry.

At the Falconry at Ashford Castle with Oliver Owl

To have those beautiful hawks perch on your wrist…fly away and back…take food from your fist…glide through the trees…magical. Absolutely nothing like it. To actually interact with a wild thing, have it trust you so completely it eats from your fist, looks into your eyes…incredible (of course, they may have been thinking – oooh, delicious eyes – but I prefer to think otherwise).

That night we ate in the village of Cong: Again, fish & chips…absolutely yummy!

Wednesday we spent all day hiking round the castle grounds…. Lakes, woods, the Guinness Tower lost in the middle of the woods (which we climbed to the top…circular stone staircase, so narrow you almost had to pry yourself up) and on the top…just trees as far as the eye could see. We had lunch at the tiny golf club in the middle of the grounds…then walked some more.

On the way to our room, we met a painter (whose first name is Rick, but I forget his last). His paintings lined the walls of the hallway. We had a lengthy chat with him, and apparently he is very well known. Queen Elizabeth has 8 of his paintings and sculptures, as do celebrities from all over. Very interesting to talk with him.

That night we ate at the Castle…all dressed up (as much as we could from what we’d ‘brung’). Then we went down to the Dungeon Bar, where a singer sang old Irish songs. I was called to the stage to sing “GalwayBay.” I’d had a glass of sherry, so I didn’t mind at all…it was fun!

COUNTY MAYO,WESTPORT

Thursday morning, back in the car. Did I mention all week long the weather had been FABULOUS. Around 75 degrees, sunny and NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY!

We drove up toWestport in County Mayo, and tried to find lodging. NOTHING to be found. Finally, we took a twin bedroom at a tiny B&B with a bathroom the size of a pea. We walked around Westport, shopped a bit, had dinner at a lovely restaurant, and so to bed.

Far from the madding crowd

The next morning – dank and drear – we suited up to climb Croagh Patrick. This is a 4200′ elevation mountain which pilgrims – even today – climb barefoot. We were told NOT to climb it if the weather was bad. Since it wasn’t raining, we thought…we’ll give it a shot.

We got to the foot of the mountain, got our rain jackets and hoods on just in case, buckled up our backpacks, took about 100 steps…and it started to rain. Two fellows just then came down from the mountain. “Are you girls going up,” they asked. We told them we thought probably not, since the sign said: DO NOT CLIMB MOUNTAIN IN RAIN OR MIST. And we thought, well, maybe it had a point!

“Yeah,” said one of the men (both of whom were actually from Seattle). “The wind gusts at the top of the ridge are around 50 mph, and it’s starting to pour down. You’d be wise not to attempt it.”

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, BACK EAST TO DUBLIN

That put the crimp in the climb. So back into the car. We decided at that point, it was back to Dublin for us. We booked in at Number 31 a day early, I drove back cross country to Dublin, we got lost in Dublin itself, but finally found Hertz, turned in our rent car, and took a taxi to Number 31.

Number 31

Then (again) it was out to find food…we ate once more at the Elephant and Castle. Wonderful food. After which we took a little walk along the Liffey..

The next morning we decided to heck with it, we were just going to shop. So shop we did…I do love to shop, and we dined at lunch at a beautiful in-store restaurant which had scrumptious salads…yummy, delish.  I was out of eyeliner, so stopped at Bobbie Brown counter to buy same: ended up with eyeliner, blush and lipstick to the tune of 70 euros. And I don’t like the eyeliner! (but I love the rest!)

After a day of shopping, I finally bought my tweed jacket. I love it (but when I tried it on back home, I realized I’d lost weight and it is rather big. Must find a tailor!) Anyway, we made it back to Number 31, I packed my bags for the next morning, and we crashed.

Up at 6AM, got dressed, hugged Diane goodbye, got in the taxi, and then it was back to Houston. What a long flight that seemed to be. I was never so glad to see Houston’s flat terra firma – but only because I’m not crazy about long plane flights.

But Ireland…if you are looking for mystical magic on a hike…Ireland will be calling you.

Hiking in Wales and England

The green fields of England

The green fields of England

It’s been about 17 years since I went on my first walking tour of England and Wales…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.  I talked a good friend into getting on the road with me, and once that was settled…onto 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!” (Obviously 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.

London

Once in London, I grabbed a taxi to the Covent Garden Hotel. I was meeting Lee here later – and the suite won’t 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 has 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.

London forever

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…it is terrific (and  the follow-up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street>, the great follow-up.)

Back at the hotel, our suite was ready. Padded yellow rose chintz coated the windows, bed and loveseat. Beautiful more-than-full-size feather beds sat high, high up, with immense feather pillows. An equally immense bathroom held 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 – mostly young adults, there is hardly room to move. After a light dinner, we returned 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

Surprise: we overslept! We had barely enough time for breakfast before our car was delivered. At 9:45AM, 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 before driven a “left-handed car” and I 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 to Broad Chalke lead through Wiltshire. The deep hedgerows, the farmlands, the woods – all these are the England of legend – and so quiet. The sun shone intermittently; parts of the day were overcast – but by afternoon, it was hot. Our route took us down narrow lanes with very high hedgerows. Keeping a 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.

Between hedgerows

Between hedgerows

Our first view of the farmhouse looked like something from a Jane Austen novel. Converted to a bed and breakfast, it is built of beautiful old 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.

An olde street

An olde street

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.

Climbing the hill in Broad Chalke to view the chalk drawings

Climbing the hill in Broad Chalke to view the chalk drawings

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 into the hillside by airmen in World War I.

Mysterious Stonehenge

From Fovant, we wound 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, magical

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.

The walls of 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 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. But 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.)

Old Sarum

Old Sarum

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!

On the road to Cornwall

On the road to Lyme Regis…

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, always 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!

The Cotswolds Way

Wonderful leafy lanes

Onward to Lyme Regis through the little town of Uplyme – very pretty with pastel-painted houses.

Uplyme

Pastel houses in Uplyme

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 several concrete “sand dividers” to reach a deserted stretch of sand that was both pebbly and seaweedy and rather forbidding.

The cliffs of solid sand are high and dangerous; climbing was  forbidden because of the erosion. But 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

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 attendant’s attitude seemed to be: “We are not amused!”

Finally …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.”

A stop at a mysterious old house by the wayside

A stop at a mysterious old house by the wayside

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.

Disconcertingly, several people stare blankly at us when we ask directions, but even with 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” do we finally reach our destination.

And here we are at Ednovean House – only to find out we were there a day too 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.

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…

On the shores of Marazion

On the shores of Marazion

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.

Over the hills and far away

Over the hills and far away

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.

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.

Cocktails in Ednovean House's garden overlooking the sea and St Michael's Mount

Cocktails in Ednovean House’s garden overlooking the sea and St Michael’s Mount

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.

walking-the-causeway-to-the-mount

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.

Small houses before you reach the castle atop the island of St Michael's Mount

Small houses before you reach the castle atop the island of St Michael’s Mount

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.

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.

16

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-mousehole-house

A house in Mousehole (pronounced Muzzle)

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.

lands-end-signpost

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.

lands-end

Land’s End – oh, those views!

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. 

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.

Walking in the woods on the road to Crackington Haven

Walking in the woods on the road to Crackington Haven

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.

Crackington Haven signpost on the cliffs

Crackington Haven signpost on the cliffs

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

The gardens of Manor Farm in Crackington Haven

The gardens of Manor Farm in 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!

After an hour-long walk, we took our dirty clothes to be washed at the requested 5:30PM. 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.

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?!

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.

The road through mountains into Boscastle

The road through mountains into 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.

Lee checking out the hydrangeas at Boscastle

Lee checking out the hydrangeas at Boscastle

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.

Starting our hike round Crackington Haven

Starting our hike round Crackington Haven

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 can 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.)

The Strangles

The Strangles

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

Hiking wild countryside outside Crackington Haven

Hiking wild countryside outside Crackington Haven

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 to Mumbles.

Tintern Abbey Fields

Tintern Abbey Fields

The couple from Chepstow spoke so glowingly of the Wye Valley, we turned off on the road to see 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 The Mumbles, where I spent much of my childhood. Now it is so touristy…and is thronged with people…yet the views from the cliff walks are still wonderful.

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.

As we hadn’t booked into a B&B or hotel, we had a difficult time finding somewhere to stay…talk about frustrating. Finally we found a rather primitive B&B – only one toilet for the entire house, and NO soap! Our proprietors, however, were really very kind and lovely (and the food was 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.

Cliff walk at The Mumbles

Cliff walk at The Mumbles

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.

Cliff walk leading to Bracelet and Langland Bays

Cliff walk leading to Bracelet and Langland Bays

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.

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Cliff walk on the way to the Mumbles

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!

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The Mumbles – cliff walk

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

Cowleigh Park Farm

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.

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.

I loved this house…indeed it is one of the most splendid B&Bs we’ve 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.

A field in the Malverns

A field in the Malverns

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…)

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.

Cows in field in the Great Malverns

Cows in field in the Great Malverns

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.

Worcestershire Way

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.

Worcestershire Way

Worcestershire Way

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

Lee in window of Cowleigh Park Farm

Lee in window of Cowleigh Park Farm

From Cowleigh Park Farm back to London
Time to go home. 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.

On our arrival in London, 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!

London

London

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

Cigarette break

Cigarette break

I must confess, I did not care for London on this particular trip (I’ve since changed my mind – again). 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.

England and Wales – Where to go, what to do

Check out www.carpediemrosemary.com for complete texts & photographic hikes through England and Wales

Lands End signpost

ENGLAND

London & around

  1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub – the oldest pub, and the meeting place for everyone from Johnson to Shakespeare –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ye_Olde_Cheshire_Cheese
  2. Cliveden House www.clivedenhouse.co.uk  – overlooks the Thames, and was once the home of the Waldorf Astors, and the backdrop for the Profumo Affair (1960’s). It’s now a grand hotel.
  3. Hampton Court – Henry VIII – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=hampton+court+henry+viii&qpvt=hampton+court+henry+viii&FORM=IGRE
  4. 84 Charing Cross Road – the address for an old bookstore that was the subject of a best selling and still loved book by that same name. Also a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/84_Charing_Cross_Road_(film)
  5. Eton, Oxford, Cambridge, Windsor Castle – you can actually book rooms at Oxford during the summer months – http://www.oxfordrooms.co.uk/
  6. The playing fields of Eton – “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Read more at http://www.broowaha.com/articles/12644/the-playing-fields-of-eton-#bdmA6gJu9qx9J7K8.99
  7. Balliol College (literary home of Lord Peter Wimsey)
  8. Bloomsbury (Virginia Woolfe)
  9. Wimpole Street (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning – poets)
  10. Trafalgar Square

The Cotswolds

You can hire guides who will take you around the small villages and towns of the Cotswolds, which is a good way to see everything you want to, without getting lost!

A guide is one of the best investments you can make to really see the Cotswolds

A guide is one of the best investments you can make to really see the Cotswolds

  1. The Cotswolds – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=The+Cotswolds+landmarks&qpvt=The+Cotswolds+landmarks&FORM=IGRE
  2. The Cotswolds Way National Trail – http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/Cotswold/
  3. Broadway (Horse & Hounds restaurant, The Swan, Lowerfield Farm B&B)
  4. Snowshill – Bridget Jones’s Diary filmed here
  5. Sheepscombe House B&B in Snowshill (I spent several days here) http://www.broadway-cotswolds.co.uk/sheepscombe.html
  6. The gardens at Snowshill Manor http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/snowshill_manor_garden/
  7. Daylesford Organic Farm (organic shopping/clothes – gorgeous) http://www.daylesfordorganic.com/engine/shop/page/our+shops
  8. Bibury  (The Swan Hotel)
  9. Burford
  10. Chipping Camden, Stanton, Stanway, Buckland, Laverton
  11. The Broadway Tower, located on Broadway Hill, near the village of Broadway.
  12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadway_Tower
  13. Upper and Lower Slaughter(s), Naunton, Bourton-on-Water, Chudleigh
  14. Blenheim Palace (Churchill’s birthplace)

The Moors, Dorset

A view of Dartmoor - a wonderful wild place

A view of Dartmoor – a wonderful wild place

  1. Dartmoor National Park – mysterious, rolling moors peopled only by wild ponies – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=dartmoor+England&qpvt=dartmoor+England&FORM=IGRE
  2. Warren House Inn – at the center of Dartmoor atop a low hill, the only building for miles around http://www.warrenhouseinn.co.uk/
  3. Dorset

Cornwall

  1. Looe
  2. Polraen House in Looe; a delightful B&B with a wonderful restaurant on-site –  I have stayed here and it is absolutely lovely http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Polraen+House%2c+Looe%2c+Cornwall%2c+England&qpvt=Polraen+House%2c+Looe%2c+Cornwall%2c+England&FORM=IGRE
  3. Talland Bay, on the Cornish coast
  4. Polperro – a real step back in time – Noughts & Crosses Inn – very old

    Noughts and Crosses Inn, Polperro

    Noughts and Crosses Inn, Polperro

  5. Cornish Coast Path – hiking along this path, goes for miles

    The Cornish Coast

    The Cornish Coast

  6. The Lost Gardens of Heligan http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=the+lost+gardens+of+heligan+mevagissey+uk&qpvt=the+lost+gardens+of+heligan+mevagissey+uk&FORM=IGRE
  7. St Mawes (Tudor castle on the hilltop at the coast)
  8. Truro (the great cathedral) – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Truro+England+cathedral&qpvt=Truro+England+cathedral&FORM=IGRE
  9. Fowey (pronounced FOY) on the coast
  10. Polruan, Bodinnick
  11. Mevagissy (way too touristy) – the birthplace of Daphne Du Maurier
  12. Penzance (Pirates of…)
  13. St Michael’s Mount – can be reached from Marazion, by the causeway twice a day, otherwise by fishing boat – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=St+Michael’s+Mount&qpvt=St+Michael%27s+Mount&FORM=IGRE
  14. Land’s End
  15. Lyme Regis
  16. Perranuthnoe – a tiny tiny old village on the Cornish coast, just down the road from Marazion – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Peranuthnoe+England&qpvt=Peranuthnoe+England&FORM=IGRE
  17. Mousehole – http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=mousehole+england+photos&qpvt=mousehole+england+photos&FORM=IGRE
  18. Land’s End
  19. St. Kew

    St Kew Inn

    St Kew Inn

  20. Crackington Haven – up a ways from St. Kew
  21. The Strangles – a wild area on the cliff walk from Crackington Haven with glorious views of the sea
  22. Tintagel (Birthplace of King Arthur) http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Tintagel+England&qpvt=Tintagel+England&FORM=IGRE
  23. Boscastle
  24. Bude

Somerset

1.       Glastonbury – King Arthur and Camelot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury

Wiltshire

  1. Stoke Farm (or Manor) in Broad Chalke (lovely B&B) – http://www.stokemanor.co.uk/
  2. Village of Lacock – 15th century, owned by the National Trust http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=lacock+england&qpvt=lacock+england&FORM=IGRE
  3. Lacock Abbey
  4. The Sign of the Angel – an very old inn in the tiny heart of Lacock (inhabited by a ghost)
  5. The George Pub – sit here and watch comings & goings through its old windows
  6. Castle Combe – one of Wiltshire’s loveliest villages – http://castle-combe.com/
  7. Old Sarum and the “old” Salisbury Cathedral remains
  8. Stonehenge

Worcestershire and Herefordshire

  1. Hay-on-Wye (otherwise known as “Full-of-Books”) http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/
  2. The Great Malverns
  3. The town of Malvern (and The Red Lion Pub)
  4. Cowleigh Park Farm – 400 year old farmhouse, absolutely delightful proprietors http://www.malvernbandbconsortium.co.uk/cowleigh-park-farm.html

WALES – THE BORDERS AND INTO WALES

  1. The Brecon Beacons – wild and lonely, sheep and wild horses – on the border of England and Wales
  2. The Wye Valley
  3. Tintern Abbey (in the Wye Valley) http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Tintern+Abbey&qpvt=Tintern+Abbey&FORM=IGRE
  4. On the coast: Swansea
  5. On the coast: The Mumbles (I lived in The Mumbles as a child)
  6. Langland Bay
  7. Bracelet Bay