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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beneath the spreading chestnut tree

A village smithy stands

The smith, a mighty man is he

With large and sinewy hands

And the muscles on his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands.

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

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

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

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A drystone wall …

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A sign for the Broadway Cricket Club…

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A footpath through the fields….

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A lonely tractor in a farrowed field…

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And more. The English countryside at its most iconic.

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

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

 

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.

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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 down 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. The two men fixed the tire, and after a proliferation of thanks, 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. I stumbled by mistake off the path onto a downward trail – yikes! Managed to stop myself before more than two steps were taken…but it is so easy to do! While walking, we remembered “Ryan’s Daughter” some of which was filmed on these very cliffs…lovely to be here.

After that little trek, we arrived back at our car, found somewhere 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 charming 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 from the night before, 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! Miles of low-lying brush and one lonely road. 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 taverns, 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 thick vegetable soup, the wonderful Irish brown soda bread, and a fabulous salad…the taste – 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 trees.

Fermoyle Lodge lost in the heart of Ireland

The Lodge is enormously welcoming…beautiful stuffed furniture and antiques…big log fires 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. 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!

The wild countryside outside Fermoyle Lodge

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, towels, everything. Nicola and Jean-Pierre were NOT amused, as they spent all morning trying to dry it out.

The following day (Monday) we actually found a hike that went on for some miles. We drove to the start of it, about two hours from Fermoyle Lodge. Then we walked through green, dense woods, over streams, to an enchanting 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 the trail 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 still not long enough, we both enjoyed it immensely. We spent that night at Fermoyle Lodge, and also dined there that evening. Jean-Pierre is a French chef, and was a little disappointed when Diane just wanted a salad (with very special directions on how to make it)… 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 and storybook. 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). We also got to hold Oliver Owl, the castle’s mascot, on our wrists…a beautiful bird, magnificently feathered.

That night we ate in the village of Cong: Again, fish & chips…Nothing like ’em (good, I mean!)

Wednesday we spent all day wandering around 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 castle’s 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 “Galway Bay.” I’d had a glass of sherry, but even so I could hardly sing above a whisper…I had terrible stage fright!

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 to Westport 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! 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.  After which, stopped at the Bobbie Brown counter to buy 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 suit in every way. Mysterious and brooding, green and beautiful…a land never to be forgotten.

Wales and England: Hiking hidden footpaths

The cliffs at Land's End

The cliffs at Land’s End

Hiking hidden footpaths in England and Wales

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

London

London

London

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

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

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

Back at the hotel, our suite was ready. Padded yellow rose chintz coats the windows, bed and loveseat. Beautiful more-than-full-size feather beds 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 –  there was hardly room to move. After a light dinner, it was back to the hotel to prepare to take off early in the morning.

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

Broad Chalke, Wiltshire

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

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

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

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

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiltshire – Broad Chalke, Fovant, Stonehenge and Old Sarum

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

 

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

Stonehenge - mysterious and wonderful

Stonehenge – mysterious and wonderful

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

Old Sarum

The walls of Old Sarum

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

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

On the road to Lyme Regis

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

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

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

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

Uplyme

Uplyme

The cliffs of solid sand are high and dangerous, with climbing forbidden because of the constant erosion. 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 came in rapidly, so we had to turn back sooner than we wished.

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

CORNWALL

Viewing St Michael's Mount

Viewing St Michael’s Mount from Marazion

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

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

Marazion

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

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

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

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

And then we were at Ednovean House – except for the fact we arrived a day early! Apparently really screwed up, having booked our room for Friday and Saturday nights; no rooms were available tonight! Once again, we were back in the car, on the road for Marazion, a small town two miles away (and the gateway to St. Michael’s Mount).

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Just about to drop from exhaustion, we found a small hotel in Marazion with two single rooms. We dumped our luggage and walked downhill to a tiny, adorable restaurant for a delicious dinner of crevettes in sauce, mushrooms in garlic, and delicious chewy bread. Dessert was 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 were the best I’ve tasted anywhere…still are.

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

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

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The Cornish coast is heavenly

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

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

At the end of the day, we finally ensconced ourselves in Ednovean House. The view from our window was amazing: across emerald green fields, you see the sea, a clear, deep blue, mirroring the sky above. Set against this glamour were 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 was crystal clear and the view was/is  perfection.

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

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

Val and Arthur, the proprietors, served 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 was glad, glad, glad we were walking and hiking as much as we were!

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.

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

St Michael's Mount - sunset

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

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

On St. Michael's Mount

On St. Michael’s Mount

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

A street in Mousehole

A street in Mousehole

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

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

The cliffs of Land's End

The cliffs of Land’s End

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

Back to Perranuthnoe, for dinner at Victoria Inn in the village. Perranuthnoe is a village forgotten by time: small and enchanting, it houses several bed and breakfasts, old stone houses covered in ivy, 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 were decorated with flowers…pots and hanging baskets were everywhere we looked. The hedges along the roadsides were starred with all manner of tiny wildflowers. It was a delightful spot.

Perranuthnoe

Perranuthnoe

St. Kew and Crackington Haven

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

On the road, manicured, pristine farm country surrounded us. About ten miles from our destination, we pulled onto a tiny side lane, parked and set off walking 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. Never tasted anything so good….

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 led through the high green hedgerows and tiny villages, past old stone houses with slate or thatched roofs which were 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 village with a wonderful old church and ancient graveyard, with gravestones so old we were unable to read them. We stopped at an inn for coffee, then turned back to the car. Up the lane, we noticed a manor house for sale, set back from the road with a long drive bound by rhododendrons. I pretended I lived there just for a moment…can’t imagine how magical that would be.

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

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

The garden at Crackington Haven

The garden at our B&B in Crackington Haven

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

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

The house itself had stone flagged floors. Our bedroom had twin beds covered with rose flowered chintz covers and frilled pillowcases. The room – as are all the rooms -was whitewashed, with dark oak Tudor beams, and a very low ceiling. The bathroom also had oak beams, on which I had already knocked my head, and a step-down, which had sent Lee crashing into the tub. (Crackington Haven – well named!) 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 had been very casual, as far as clothes are concerned. We had come up against it here; when we asked Muriel if we dressed for dinner, she answered “Ectually….yes!” in no uncertain terms.

I had to wear what I brought, 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 were at 6:30 sharp; dinner was at 7; and breakfast at 8:30AM. This was about all the regimentation I could take. We were glad that we planned to be out all day Monday, and must find our own dinner Monday night!

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

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

Beginning one of our walks at Crackington Haven

Lee at the beginning of one of our walks at Crackington Haven

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

Then we took off to explore. First on our list was Bude and a walk over the cliffs. Bude (on that particular day) was 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 was 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 make a visit worthwhile. Nonetheless, we plowed on to Boscastle.

Views around Boscastle

Views around Boscastle

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

Boscastle

Boscastle

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

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

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

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

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

We logged in ten miles or so from our hike, and as dinner was not being served at the manor that night, decided to go out for a picnic dinner. Flinging a long scarf around my neck, dressed in khaki green jacket and boots and looking like a WWI pilot according to Lee, we sneaked into the bar to pick up some lager. This, together with tomatoes, pasties, apples and cheese, was our dinner. We set out for a small field around the corner to eat and relax. There was 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 were 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 wass consumed (both of us too nervous about Muriel to leave anything on our plates), and then we were out the door and off.

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

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

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

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

The Mumbles cliff walk

The Mumbles, Wales cliff walk

As we hadn’t booked into a B&B or hotel, we had a difficult time finding somewhere to stay. Finally we found a rather primitive B&B – only one toilet, and NO soap! Our proprietors, however, were delightful (and the food 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 (excellent!), and then back up the hill to our B&B. We are so exhausted, we crawled into our beds and were out like lights. (Just as well, as there was only one lonely lightbulb, hanging from a string in the middle of the room!)

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

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

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

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

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

The sands at The Mumbles

The sands at The Mumbles

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

Eventually we left Mumbles to drive through the Brecon Beacons, to Herefordshire and the Great Malverns. The route was tortuous, as we got lost trying to find our way out of Swansea (we’re a bit pitiful with directions), 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.” The roadsides were dotted with bookshelves filled with various tomes…I loved it! 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. Talk about eating our way through England! We have come far since first beginning this journey…

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

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

He booked us into the Red Lion pub for dinner, where we had chicken filets in lime and brandy with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, new potatoes, and fresh rolls. Lager accompanied this repast. For dessert, we had rhubarb crumble with whipped cream and coffee. I am still trying to figure out why I didn’t end up looking like Shamu the Whale at the end of the trip: 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 held blue and white bowls and pitchers. The room was whitewashed, with natural oak beams.

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

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

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

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

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

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

On the Cotswolds Way

On the Cotswolds Way

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

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

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

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

From Cowleigh Park Farm back to London

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

Back in London…

Two girls on a break in London

Two girls on a break in London

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

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

Back in London

Back in London

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

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

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

 

 

Hiking in Norway – green mountains, silver fjords

Standing on a Bergen street

Bergen

A suggestion from Diane – a friend I met on a group hike in the Cinque Terra – that we try a group hike in Norway sounded appealing, as it is currently hot hot hot in Houston!

So…I arrived in Bergen after switching planes in Amsterdam, and took a taxi to the Hotel Neptun. The taxi driver, a surly sort, leaned from the cab to spit every few miles, which of course, placed him high on my list of attractions. Diane was waiting at the hotel with a bowl of fresh raspberries…how great it was to see her after our brief meeting at Martha’s Vineyard! After planting the luggage, we walked into town for a light supper, and caught up on the news. Then to bed to try to get some sleep, so we will be fresh for the group tomorrow.

The Fishmarket of Bergen and the Funicular

We finally got to sleep after surviving a heat wave in the hotel room, and the screeching of traffic until the wee hours outside our third story window. Even with the window open wide, it was almost unbearably hot…in the 90s, not exactly what I expected! By 3:30 we finally dropped off, and woke up about 9AM for breakfast.

Bergen’s main street

After breakfast, we rambled over to Bergen’s fishmarket…just down the road and on the edge of the fjord, where fishing boats, cruise ships and ferries all dock. The open-air market had it all, including whale steaks (black!), t-shirts, an immense variety of wonderful fresh fruit (more raspberries and cherries), postcards, sweaters, cheese…and much more.

Next on our list was a restored area of Bergen: old wooden buildings, once housing traders, now are home to shops and boutiques. A variety of beautiful things was on display: wonderful pottery, ceramics, lace, antiques… The flower gardens glowed with roses, daisies, dripped with honeysuckle, while the homes were quite austere architecturally, constructed of wooden slats, many covered with concrete and painted bright light colors. These homes, we were told, are vulnerable to fire, and Bergen has suffered through many conflagrations in its past.

View from top of funicular down to Bergen

At 2PM, we joined the rest of the merry band (three couples and our guide Beate) back at the hotel. Again we walked through the market and town, then rode the funicular to the top of the mountain. We spent a little time looking over the remarkable view, then hiked back down the mountain through lovely ferny woods and huge oak and birch trees – beautiful!

After showering and changing for dinner, we listened to a brief talk by Beate about the history of Norway, ate, and then it was back to our rooms to pack for Sunday’s hike – a 15-mile day to look forward to! And so to bed!

From Myrrdahl to Flam

Up at 6:30 as we needed to be on the road by a quarter to eight. With little time to spare, we washed our hair, packed our luggage, carried it downstairs, grabbed a bowl of cereal, then it was on through Bergen to catch the train to Myrrdahl. Arriving at the station, we took various detours through other trains, in one side and out the other, finally finding “our” train only to discover it had engine trouble. Many solemn announcements later, in three languages, the train finally got rolling.

The splashing and rushing of the waters throughout the land

We disembarked at Myrrdal two hours later for the 15-mile hike to Flam and beyond. What an incredible hike…through beautiful valleys striped with waterfalls, rivers, and silver streams which descended from mountaintops, or rushed pell-mell over boulders and rocks. The water was bell-clear; Diane has named the color Norge Blue. This is the land of 1000 waterfalls; water is everywhere, and forests of birch and pine coated the mountainsides.

On our 15 mile hike to Flam

We hiked in a slight mizzle – the sun never fully appeared, which is the Norwegian way, according to Petter, Beate’s son and our second guide.

Initially, the trail wasn’t difficult: it began as a flat, grassy track through rolling fields. Soon, however, the long grass hid stones and small boulders – and I fell three times on these very slippery rocks. It was like walking on ice up and downhill…and crossing streams is not one of my best jobs! But the treacherous undergrowth finally petered out, and we continued on grassy trails through beautiful wilderland. A goat farm, then tiny buildings appeared out of nowhere. Some buildings were smoking sheds, with roofs of long grass turves, saplings growing from them.

A “smoking shed”

Wild raspberries bordered the trail, and we ate them with relish. Divine!

Stopping several times for breaks and snacks, our final break was a “troll bowl” – a hollowed-out cave with an open top, and a large stone slab for a table. Loved it! Trolls are part of this country’s folklore – old as the mountains.

Ro with friend – troll images are everywhere!

In Bergen, many shops have carved trolls standing watch in their doorways.

The final leg of the hike was on asphalt through rolling beautiful country (a little rough on the toes.) When we finally felt as if we could walk no longer (and we’ve made very good time) we saw our hotel, which was lovely – part new, part old. From the balcony of our room, we saw goats grazing in fields bordered by wild fern-splashed country.

After a hot bath and the obligatory hair washing, we all convened in the bar for drinks. The view from the bar’s amazing floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window, was absolutely awe-inspiring: a silvery-golden fjord, stretching for miles and surrounded by mountains and lush forests of pine trees, backed by the setting sun – absolutely glorious.

Then, a light dinner. It was a challenging, tiring day and so by 10PM, we said goodnight, packed our luggage, and it was off to bed! Tomorrow should be a little easier, but soon comes the glacier hike!

From Flam to Balestrand

A late morning: we don’t need to be downstairs until 10AM. Heaven! We slept until 7:30, showered, ate breakfast, and popped the rest of our things into the luggage, which will be taken to our next stop. Pulling on our backpacks, we began the hike – up, up, up to a small settlement on the mountainside – buildings built centuries ago which are now part of a farm.

Our hike started on the other side of the mountain to the farm

The wooden buildings were tiny, almost miniature in size. All had pots of red geraniums in the windows, and the interiors were set up as museums, with old instruments, stoves, sinks, beds, all as used in days gone by. We saw how cheese used to be made – a nine-hour process. If more milk was produced than necessary for one batch, another batch had to be started immediately making an 18-hour day for some poor woman.

Taking a water break at the museum and farm

After the museum and farm, we continued our hike through the woods towards the ferry. Beate calls this a “tricky” hike. The trail was extremely narrow, with a sharp drop on our left, and the mountain rising sheer to our right. Sometimes the hiking turned into rock climbing! The mist and off-and-on mizzle made the mossy rocks extremely slippery, so we had to be very careful where we put our feet. But the views of the fjord, and the beauty of the forest (that lovely green smell) through which we were hiking made it all worthwhile.

The scent of the pines, the green ferns, the moss that covers the rocks and boulders, and below us, the silver-gray fjord, like a living mirror of the sky: all was so beautiful, so pristine. Just breathing in the air purified lungs and mind. Many flowers showed tiny heads along the track: Ling, a heather-like bush with tiny, tiny purple bells; buttercups and celandines; and an occasional violet, poking its head through the grass. But the surroundings were mostly green, green, green – from the forest floor to the treetops.

It never rains in Norway – it just mizzles. The air is always moist, and mist often hangs low over the mountains. The sky was bright white, and the longer we hiked, the hotter we became.

On one of the ferries – it’s like driving a car in the States!

We emerged from the forest on the road at the ferry, which I just managed to get on by the skin of my teeth (the gangplank started to rise as I set foot upon it.) An hour’s ride through the fjord to Balestrand – and there was the beautiful gingerbread hotel on the water, surrounded by the loveliest little town: small colorful Norwegian houses, all painted in pastels and alive with flowers in gardens and pots. Red geraniums abounded, as did vivid hollyhocks, some tall as houses, and purple-black in color. Marigolds, roses, daisies – all in full, riotous bloom. Diane and I walked around the town drinking in the beauty of it all.

Our luggage was late, so we had an anxious two hours waiting for it to turn up. Finally, in it came and we were finally able to clean up for dinner. The smorgasbord offered a truly astounding buffet, with more food than an army could eat in a week. All sorts of seafood, including the whale steaks, as well as caviar, chicken, capon, turkey, a table full of cheeses, fabulous breads, a hot buffet table with roast beef, fish and veggies, a dessert bar with ten different desserts – I’ve never seen so much food!

After we ate, three of us attended a concert given by Age Kristofferson, a Carnegie Hall pianist who played eleven brief Edvard Grieg compositions. It was absolutely delightful; he told short stories to accompany each song, some of which were funny, all of which were interesting. The concert was held in a small hall within the hotel. A Japanese man recorded Kristofferson’s playing, and although asked to stop by the artist, he wouldn’t. I wanted to haul him out of the room!

Fjaerland

Fjaerland

Yes, up at 6:30 indeed! Breakfast at 7:15, then we had to finish packing and be ready to leave for the ferry by 8. An hour and a half later we reached Fjaerland. The day had become steadily mistier the further north we progressed. The mountains rose on either side of the fjord, green and majestic, covered with pine trees and wreathed in mist. Absolutely awe-inspiring and beautiful,  with silver waterfalls criss-crossing the slopes.

For the first time, the air was extremely chilly; I had to put a sweatshirt over my shirt, and top it with the rainjacket. (Note: this was the ONLY time it was chilly.)

Hotel Mundal

We disembarked from the ferry, and proceeded to haul our luggage to the Hotel Mundal – uphill! At least the hotel was not too far from the ferry! The hotel was run by Billie, an expat Englishwoman who, by marriage, had become part of the Mundal family and history <Note: Vice President Walter Mondale is connected to this family>. After dropping the luggage in the lobby, we immediately began our hike.

Fairly flat at first, the trail took us alongside a river – now rushing, now fairly quiet. No-one else was around – it was peaceful and beautiful and the overcast sky cooled the air and made for very pleasant walking. I had to divest myself of my sweatshirt, and soon after, the raincoat. Grass-green moss covered the stones and ground beneath the trees, in many places forming a broad mossy floor – very Hans Christian Anderson.

As we continued, the trail began to ascend. Soon we were climbing steadily up, over boulders and rocks and tree roots into the heart of the forest. The trail became steeper and steeper. We reached a small plateau where we dropped off our backpacks (very safely) before continuing the climb. It was tricky, the path narrowing to a wet, and in many places, rocky trail. The boulders were slick and a stone could easily turn an ankle. We stopped for a brief lunch of cheese and rolls and tomato, then on we went.

The river splashed merrily down from us, and the sky became lighter, when we finally halted at the foot of the mountain. Diane, Paul and I continued up to see the ice cave at the very top. What seemed a short jaunt at the beginning was in actuality quite a climb – and the smoothness of the grass, deceiving. Brambles, grass and briar covering stones and boulders – dangerous. Again we had to watch where we put our feet. Challenging, but worth it to get to the ice and snow, and pose atop the mountain in front of the ice cave (which was actually an ice bridge.)

In front of the ice cave

We felt as if we were on the roof of the world, with the rest of the group just pinpricks in the valley below.

After our photography session, we trotted back down the mountain like goats, joined the group and began the hike back to our hotel in Fjaerland. Not too bad going down: narrow trails, stony, mossy, and damp. The day was overcast.

And then a lovely thing happened: when we reached a leveling out of the trail, the sun broke through the clouds, the sky became a deep, clear blue, and the fields stretched before us, emerald green and literally glowing in the sunlight. And it was exactly like this the remainder of the trip. Beautiful.

The little tiny town of Fjaerland perched on the edge of the fjord and it was exquisite. A book town mirroring Hay-on-Wye in England, its tiny bookshops were everywhere, and bookcases actually lined the narrow roads. The Hotel Mundal, very old and historic, offers glorious back views onto lawns and fjord – peaceful and calming.

The view from our room at Hotel Mundal

Although our hike was only four hours, it was challenging, and we returned for a restful afternoon readying us for the hike tomorrow – 3000 feet up to the Flatbreen Glacier. Billie gave a short talk on the history of the 100-year old hotel, impressive! Much of the hotel is still the way it was “back in the old days” with marvelous old, old leather armchairs studded with nails, a fire glowing in the immense fireplace, and a great room set for dinner. So much history and tradition: it was wonderful. Tomorrow – Flatbreen!

The Flatbreen Glacier

We were up and out of Hotel Mundal by 10AM, taking a taxi to the base of the mountain where we were to climb to the Flatbreen (which means “glacier” in Norwegian…so actually appending “glacier” after Flatbreen is pretty unnecessary!)

The start of the Flatbreen glacier hike

The first 500 feet of the hike were straight up. It was very, very difficult for me: my lung capacity is not large, and I stopped every few yards, breathing deeply and drinking water. My heart was banging in my chest by the time I arrived at the top of this first stretch. Beate told me everyone has had trouble – including her! – but that from then on it would be easier – more streams and rivers to cross, more rock climbing.

Keep climbing up to Flatbreen

It was true: while just walking upwards was difficult for me, it was easier for to climb the rocks and boulders than just hike on a straightforward uphill path. As we climbed the mountain, we crossed streams over many and various bridges and boulders, the last bridge a wobbly couple of pieces of wood. Then began the major rock climb: I used all four limbs to get myself to the more traditional trail. In some instances, I was flat against the boulders while trying to get a purchase on the stone. Petter guided us across and up the more difficult parts of the track. Difficult – but incredibly exhilarating!

Every once in a while, I turned to look back at the spectacular valley views. Miles below us gleamed the fjord, and forests stretched as far as the eye could see across mountains and more mountains. Up, up, up and up we rose – 3000 feet to the top…approximately three miles up, given that we were winding our way around the mountain.

Suddenly, Petter stopped us and said: “Clear your mind.” He led us around a huge boulder and there was the glacier, icy blue and white, jagged and jutting to the sky in the brilliant sunshine –  immense! The Flatbreen is a “calving” glacier, because it drops chunks of ice at intervals. It was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen.

I make it to the Flatbreen – glorious glorious glorious

Sitting across from the glacier, we stopped for lunch at a small hut built of boulders and wood. The man who built this hut had made a thousand trips up and down the mountain with the needed supplies, according to Beate. It was said he climbed to the top in 40 minutes, a record to this day. We made it in about four hours.

Our happy group at the Flatbreen

After lunch, once a few hardy souls had returned from climbing the ridge on the morain, we began our hike back down the mountain. Down, down, down we clambered- often on our rear ends, as we were descending yet again over boulders similar to those on the way up (although this is a different trail.) This trail was as treacherous as the upward track, the earth so dry, it slid beneath our feet. And after a couple of hours, despite the thickness of my boot soles, my feet began to feel every stone beneath them!

A brief rest about midway down the mountain, where we sat on a grassy flat and just chatted idly for half an hour, and we were on our way. The sun was high in the sky, and the world smelled of trees.

Still on the hike upwards to the Flatbreen glacier

Down, down we climbed, through fern and birch woods, often hanging onto the trees for balance. Flowers starred the trail. The sun continued to shine, and it was a heavenly day. Our final climb over rocks and boulders in the river, led us to a final stony descent. All in all, the hike took about eight hours, and I was truly exhausted by the time I plonked myself in the taxi for the ride back to the hotel. And sweaty. And dirty. But what an adventure. All the more exhilarating because I’ll probably never be doing this climb again!

Fjaerland and the Glacier Museum

Up and out by 10AM. We were staying in Fjaerland for a few more hours, and decided to walk to the Glacier Museum, which has some interesting exhibits, including a walk-in “glacier” formed of plastic. It was very eerie to be inside and hear the water melting, the stones and ice cracking within …I had, and have, no desire to walk inside a real glacier!

The little wobbly bridge in Fjaerland

The visit to the museum was followed by a two-hour walk around the town, which included inching across a hanging – and rather wobbly – bridge, one at a time. Shera, Beate’s dog who accompanied us on this hike, was truly a picture as she crossed the bridge, legs splayed, eyes beseeching!

We returned to town, purchased lunch at a local grocery store and ate on the lawn behind our hotel, alongside the fjord. The sun was again brilliantly hot, and the sky was dotted with one or two icy white clouds. Idyllic. Diane and I sat on a bench on the lawn and read for an hour until the ferry arrived. I could stay here for the rest of the trip…

Our luggage was sitting in the hotel hall, waiting for us to drag it to the dock, which was not too far away. We caught the ferry back to the Kvikne Hotel in Balestrand. Diane and I stood on the prow, looking at some of the most glorious sights in the world…sometimes it’s almost too much, it hurts to look. Everywhere we turned, there is beauty.

The beauty of the fjords

We landed, dragged our suitcases uphill to the hotel (thank goodness for wheels), had approximately two hours to clean up, and headed down to dinner. Again, the wonderful smorgasbord had every kind of food we could wish for, but I was ready for bed. The next day, we had to be awake by 6AM, as a 12-14 hour day was ahead of us.

Vik and Finden

Up at 6AM, it was the beginning a long day. We were ready to catch the ferry for a ten-minute ride to our first hike, which started at 8. After a hearty breakfast of muesli, orange juice, and that great bread, we convened on the pier, ready to board the ferry. Ten short minutes later, we disembarked at Vik.

Vik

Our hike led us through Vik, a delightful little town on the water’s edge, full of small painted wooden houses and shops and galleries. From here, we hiked to the mountains, and a trail that is green, green, green – beautiful views on all sides of farmers’ fields, woods, ferns, and flowers -the fjord gleaming way down below. From the heights, we could see Vik as an illustration in a Grimm’s fairy tale, nestled in a valley bound by water and mountains.

One of our goals this day was to see a stave church, built with no nails but supported by tree trunks, or “staves” which are felled and left to dry and naturally resinate for eight years, and which are then used to build the church. This particular church was built in the 1100’s, and has its original staves. Special services are still held within.

Rambling all around the town (of Vik)

After a brief rest here, we rambled all over the mountain, returning down to Vik in the golden sunshine. So peaceful, it is as if all stress and responsibility fell away as we walked over the rolling countryside. All is heartbreakingly beautiful in the clear golden light.

When we reached Vik, we spent a couple of hours exploring, shopped for some supplies, and checked out the shops and the grocery store: I love foreign grocery stores and drugstores. It’s always so much fun to shop in them, checking out the different and unusual! Wandering the streets, I discovered the most delightful little group of homes, almost like dolls’ houses, painted in pale pastels and hidden from the eye behind storage buildings. The windows were lace curtained, with windowsills lined with pots of bright geraniums or daisies. The houses surrounded a small village green, the grass bright as emeralds in the sunshine. It was one of the most delightful parts of our delightful day here.

After eating our lunch at an outdoor table by the fjord, we rambled  for an hour or two, Diane buying a statuette of a “troll couple with tails.” Then we caught the ferry to Finden where walked to a goat farm for another “lunch.” We were met at the base of the mountain by the farm’s owner, who led us uphill to his historic home, built entirely of wood, and beautifully decorated. One side of the room was filled with a very long table, lit with candelabra, and lined with benches on either side, all of which he had built. The table was set with exquisite china, napkins, silverware and wine glasses. When we are seated, he brought out immense platters of grilled goat and vegetables: beans, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, and gravy.  It was a wonderful meal – and I sure wish I could’ve done justice to it.

Benches front the house, on one of which reposed two adorable tiny black kittens – the sweetest little things – but they did not like Shera, Beate’s dog, who, however, was very patient, as always, and left them well alone after an initial bout of barking.

We took many photographs, then walked back down the mountain to the ferry, which took us up the fjord to another mountain trail. Ferns and high grass and trees surrounded our narrow track – and up, up, up we climbed. Presently the trail extremely difficult. Huge moss-covered boulders, steep, steep paths, grass covered – stones lined our way, slicked with moss and dew, and tricky. We hike forever up through wild raspberry, blackberry and blueberry bushes – the berries were delicious with that wild woodsy flavor.

The trail became steeper and steeper, and eventually one by one, we turned back to the boat.

I was drenched in perspiration by the time I made it back down. What an experience; I was climbing down alone, and kept hoping I wouldn’t miss the trail. Never was I so happy to see a ferry!

And so back to Vik, where a taxi was waiting to drive us back to Balestrand. Back earlier than expected, we actually had a couple of hours to clean up for dinner. Then it was time to pack for an early launch back to Bergen on Saturday.

Back to Bergen

Up at 6:15, we packed, zipped down to breakfast, then rolled our suitcases downhill to the landing by 7:45, where we boarded the ferry for a four-hour trip back to Bergen. Unlike prior trips, we all stayed downstairs, many of us sleeping. The morning started off cloudy, but ended sunny and hot.

My suitcases, which seemed relatively light at the beginning of the trip, now felt as if I was carrying two-ton weights within. It must be all the sweat and dirt packed on the socks and t-shirts!

In Bergen, we said goodbye to our small group, then Diane and I rolled our suitcases to the Admiral Hotel, overlooking the fjord, dropped off our luggage and rambled round for a final farewell. I always feel sad at the end of a hike such as this. You enter into another world….then, of course, you have to come back to the real one. Hard sometimes to make the transference.

Then it was back to the Admiral Hotel and my room, overlooking the fjord. However…noisy as all get out! If it’s not a ferry or catamaran revving up for an hour or two before actually leaving port, it was the mass of people making merry at the top of their lungs – or someone on a bullhorn talking about who knows what ad infinitum – this town is unbelievably noisy, busy and social! And I couldn’t close the windows because it is TOO HOT! But I survived – it was a great, great experience and adventure (oh, and now they’re setting off guns!)

Another observation: Some hotels, such as this one, do not put out soap, but rather have it in a wall dispenser in the shower. Not so good if you are sitting in the bathtub, and the soap is three feet above your head – it made for some slippery moments!

Finally: I never saw a homeless person nor a stray animal on any streets in Norway.

I will never forget the incredible beauty of this country…so much unspoiled loveliness, you just have to be thankful you’ve seen what the natural world has to offer.

Everyone and everything is friendly in Norway

England: Hiking through England’s Green and Pleasant Land

CORNWALL & THE COTSWOLDS

A Cornish house

On the way to Cornwall, the road over the moors

We arrived around 10AM at Gatwick and in a very short time, we’re on our way to Cornwall. The day was overcast and cloudy…cool but not cold. We drive the M3 until we get off on one of the “A” roads, taking us through Salisbury Plains, where we see Stonehenge in the distance, but don’t stop.

We stopped for a break at this lonely pub

A detour through Dartmoor allows us to see the green-spreading rolling moors and the sheep and wild ponies. At the top of Dartmoor, in the middle of nowhere, we stop at a little inn … if you’ve ever seen “An American Werewolf in London,” this will remind you of it, but without the creepy inhabitants. There is something absolutely fascinating about this kind of place…

A view over the moors

We made it to Polraen House (B&B) without incident. At some point, I discovered – after calling him “Gil” for about a day and a half – that our host’s name was actually Martin – and “Gill” – with whom I’ve been e-mailing – was actually his wife, pronounced Jill but spelled Gill. Ah well…

Polraen House where we stayed in Looe, Cornwall

We arrived just before 8PM…a long day on the road, and we were tired out. Leslie drove to the moors, I took over the drive from there…a bit tense getting used to the left hand side of the road all over again.

Anyway, once at Polraen, we were able to settle in! Polraen House is just outside Looe, on a hill, rather isolated, in beautiful country. The house is old – half was built in the 1750s/half in the 1850s. Unusual for a B&B, it has a comfy little pub and a pretty dining room. Martin is a hoot – so funny, and very welcoming – he met us at the front door on our arrival.

The façade of the house is Cornish stone; flower baskets hang on the grey stone walls. It’s totally Cornwall, and utterly charming. We tidied up and immediately went downstairs for one of the yummiest dinners ever – Martin is an amazing chef. Leslie and I had spinach frittatas, Elisa had a salmon “starter” and an absolutely incredible little steak. For dessert, I had fruit and clotted cream and Elisa and Leslie, apple crumble with cream – Yum-o. And the bread – and the Cornish butter – a deep, rich yellow with flavor unlike anything over here in the States (at least anything I’ve eaten). Doesn’t come any better than this. (Before dinner, we had a drink in the pub – so by the time the day was over, we were out like lights.

The coast hike to Polperro

Got up for a wonderful English breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomato, fried bread, basket of these terrific baguettes, Cornish butter (may as well just apply it to my hips) – then Martin drove us to Looe to start our walk. The Coast Road out of Looe onto cliffs overlooked a silver sea. It was a beautiful day – intermittently cloudy and sunny, perfect for walking the six miles to Polperro. We reached Talland Bay (halfway to Polperro) and stopped for a break, then I ran up the hill to see if Allhays <an old B&B manor house that was my favorite of all time> was still there. It was – just as pretty as ever, and still called Allhays, but now a private home. I snapped a few photographs, then it was back down the hill to catch up with Elisa and Leslie on the coastal footpath to Polperro. The views from this path are breathtaking: long green cliffs soaring to a crystal blue sky, and water the color of pearls.

The coast hike to Polperro

I have done this walk so often, and I still love it – and Polperro is still as delightful as ever. By this time, the sun was out in full. We kept running into the same nice couple on the road, and they took our “group” photo.

Noughts & Crosses Inn in Polperro

We had a little lunch at the Noughts and Crosses Inn – finally, a Cornish pasty – accompanied with shandy and Guinness. We rambled around Polperro, looking in shops and the post office (which offers far more than just postage stamps), and finally climbed up the hill to the bus stop at Crumplehorn.

The cliffs on the coast road to Polperro

After a half an hour wait, the bus arrived –off we went, clattering and banging in the narrow narrow hedge-rowed lanes – at a knee-shattering speed – across the bridge and river that splits Looe into East and West; it finally dropped us at our front door at Polraen. Very nice! Great not having to drive for a day.

Dinnertime: Martin had prepared scallop salad for Leslie and me, and prawns in garlic for Elisa. Again, the wonderful baguettes and rich yellow Cornish butter. Then we shared Grand Marnier bread pudding.

And so to bed!

Fowey (pronounced Foy)

Breakfast: Greek yoghurt with Alpen – yum-o. It was absolutely incredible yoghurt! Elisa and Leslie had a full English breakfast – these certainly keep you going all day.

We decided to go to Fowey to hike around town. We drove to Polruan, parked the car, and walked the 1.5 miles to the foot ferry, which took us to Fowey. The day is on/off sunny and cloudy; we lose our way almost immediately, but end up walking around Fowey on roads rather than footpaths. The roads are pretty and lined with lovely old houses, fun to look at, and the flowers and greenery are lush, lush, lush.

Finally, back at the town center, we have a latte at a small pub called Safe Harbor. Very comfortable and relaxing. Not a real hike, but good for the legs and rear!

We caught the ferry back to Polruan, and Leslie and I walked to the car park – another 1.5 miles uphill – to pick up the car and pick up Elisa.

Polraen House’s back garden

And it’s back to Polraen House for a drink in the back garden…it’s turned into a lovely day, and Polraen’s garden backs onto a green green hill with horses grazing across it…so beautiful. The sun was out, and everything was peaceful and quiet. Then another gorgeous meal: Leslie and I have a veggie meal – veggie soup puree (pea-based) and for the main course, new potatoes in butter, beans and carrots. Absolutely the best – and the baguettes and Cornish butter – well, words are beginning to fail me, although apparently not my appetite.

Martin is one of the best chefs – I’ve never had such wonderful food.

And so again to bed.

Sunshine!

Up around 7:30, today we plan to go and see the Lost Gardens of Heligan, St. Mawes and Truro (for its cathedral – but we never make it to Truro). The day is cool and cloudy.

By the time we reach the Gardens, the sun has come out and the sky is absolutely vividly blue. The Gardens’ 200 acres are beautiful, sectioned off into specific type gardens, such as the Jungle Garden, Italian Garden, Asian Garden, etc. They also encompass fields and river walks, which gave us a wonderful walk over fields and along the river…The sun was shining, and the air smelled of flowers. We ate lunch at the Garden Centre – Cornish pasties again…nice!

The Lost Gardens

Then on to St. Mawes, which is one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall. Unfortunately, we arrived rather late, so we saw very little of the village…just toured the little Tudor castle on the hill, and then walked to the sea front, where we stopped for a latte. Martin and Gillian were taking the night off, so we picked up some cheese and rolls and raspberries for an evening snack.

There was a slight drizzle of rain by this time, so we turned for our B&B (the only bit of rain during the entire trip). Tomorrow we leave for the Cotswolds!

From Looe to Snowshill – one of the prettiest of the Cotswolds villages

Up around 9:30for the usual yummy breakfast, ready for the road to the Cotswolds.

As we our paying our bill, one of the other guests come by to say “someone has a flat…” It’s us, unfortunately. A lot of driving over “kerbs” has finally ended with the expected tire problem. Martin and the guest (fromLuxembourg) labored mightily to change the rather recalcitrant tire. It took an hour – with Martin asking, rather testily at one point as he was bending over the car, if his “bum looked big in checks <his pants>!!” …but everything was finally fixed, and then we were off!

We drove from Looe to Snowshill without further incident, and were able to make excellent time – 4.5 hours – as the weather was clear and sunny.

We drove through or around Bristol and Evesham and Broadway, landing at Sheepscombe House around 3:30-ish. Jacki (one of the proprietors) met us and showed us to our rooms. Elisa and Leslie shared a twin bed room in the main house. Mine was up an outside stair – rather a suite, very very pretty. No tub!

The road through the village of Snowshill to our B&B

We unpack, ramble around Snowshill – which is one of England’s most picturesque villages, and the setting for “Bridget Jones” movies – then we go to the village pub (Snowshill Arms) for dinner. Pretty much typical pub food, but good. The table by the window looks over the old churchyard and graveyard where “Bridget” sees her parents re-marry. If you want the countryside of England…there is nothing better than right here.

Then back to Sheepscombe House. My god – it’s bloody cold at night! And the sky is dark dark dark – the tiny country villages of course do not have street lamps…but the sky was clear as a bell, and the stars were out in force…walking beneath the overhanging trees up the lane to Sheepscombe was a bit challenging and fun…we actually had to take flashlights with us, because when it gets dark…it gets dark!

The Snowshill Arms on the village green

Touring the Cotswolds villages – stepping back in time

Up at 7:30…another yummy breakfast, this time with rhubarb yoghurt…organic, natural – absolutely fab! (I wish I could get these yoghurts in Houston.)

We joined Tim (our host) for a full day’s tour of the Cotswolds, including Stanton, Naunton, the Slaughters, Chipping Camden, Bourton on the Water, etc.

A funny moment occurred as Tim was asking Elisa about Bonnie, her dog. “Do you spend much time together?” he asked at one point.

She was silent for a moment, then murmured, “Well, yes, as much as I can…and she sleeps with me.”

It took a moment for us to realize he was actually asking about the three of us!

Again, the weather was incredible…blue sky, clear as a bell, 70 degrees – the sun felt absolutely lovely.

A manor house on our tour

Tim took us at one point to an organic shopping centre. I have never seen so many beautiful things – from foodstuffs to an elegant dress shop with the most beautiful organic clothes, cashmere, fine wool and cotton – expensive as all get out – the clothes were all white or earthtone grey but beautifully tailored, I just craved something from this shop, but it was out of my reach! – one sweater, the sheerest softest white cashmere, ran about 450 pounds ($1000)…white cashmere blankets…A coat I would have died for was 1300 pounds ($2750) – grey/white tweed…and gorgeous furniture in another shop, more white white white (my favorite color). O to be rich!

A garden view

Our tour took us all over the Cotswolds, the small towns were heaven. We also were able to walk through gorgeous manor gardens, and finally got home about 6:30 (85 pounds each of us to Tim). That evening, we ate dinner at The Swan in Broadway – so English, and just a perfect end to the day.

Broadway, quintessentially Cotswold

Up around7AM– wash hair, finally! Great hairdryer! After breakfast, we hotfoot it to the garage to see about the tire. It’s a goner – 200 pounds ($400+) for a new one – so we drop the tire off, Mike (the garage owner) says to drop back around 4PM…

A tea room in Broadway

Off we went to look around Broadway, a historic old town that is the starting point for touring many other small villages in the Cotswolds. I bought a few small gifts, then we had lattes (again), and drove off to Snowshill Manor, a mausoleum of a mansion filled with an eccentric’s collection of things from all over the world – one room was dedicated to bicycles, and included a penny-farthing. I remember my grandfather had one of those…

I found out the meaning of the old phrase, “Good night. Sleep tight.” In the old days, mattresses were run through with rope, from one side of the bed; the rope was twined through the other side of the bed, and pulled tight, to keep the mattress firm. Thus “Sleep tight.”

A view of the gardens at Snowshill Manor

The gardens at Snowshill Manor were absolutely incredible – orchards with pears and apples in abundance – beautiful stonework and finials – roses, pansies, sweet peas, climbing vines, green lawns – all in abundance. The scent of the roses was intense. Lunch is at a tiny restaurant on the grounds…

Doorway to the secret garden!

From Snowshill Manor, we drove to Snowshill Lavendar – unfortunately, closed until May. The lavender fields were totally shorn. So we left for theBroadwayTower– which, when you climb 250 feet – has a 360 view of the Cotswolds countryside. Below, we saw about 20 deer gathered under the trees…

Back then to the garage – tire has not even been delivered yet, so we go back to Sheepscombe House, where E&L take naps.

A view on my walk

I however left for a couple of hours’ walk through and over fields, meeting a nice man (Bill) and his dog (Gus) – we walked and talked back to his car, and I met and chatted with Daphne, his wife. Lovely couple …then I continued my walk.

The weather is incredible here in the Cotswolds – cloudy one minute – brilliant sunshine the next.

The clouds drifted away and the sun came out in full, the sky once again clean clear blue. This is the best time of day in the Cotswolds…between 4-6PM…everything is golden in the soft sunlight…the fields the greenest, the Cotswolds stone the most golden…the little village of Snowhill lies like a basket of white eggs in a green bowl…incredibly beautiful, surrounded by hill, woods and fields…I could have walked on forever.

I meet E&L for dinner at the Snowhill Arms at 7PM– finally, steak and kidney pie. Yum-o again! After dinner, a couple next to us passes over a half bottle of red wine they couldn’t finish – she is from Thailand, he from Virginia. We had a lovely long talk with them…then we are back on the pitch dark Cotswold path to Sheepscombe. Luckily, Jacki has given us the heavy big flashlights to carry and light us home through the narrow high hedgerows!

Spending a day hiking around Snowshill and Stanway

Up around7AM– a cup of tea and a read before breakfast. I see on the news that Pavarotti has died. Another giant gone.

Joanna <a friend from Austin visiting relatives in Cirencester> gets here around10AM to meet me for a hike, and we set off for one “round robin” walk around Stanton, Stanway and Snowshill. We start at Snowhill instead of Stanton– and of course, somehow end up doing a complete circle of Snowshill!

Driving on to Stanton, we stop in the village pub atop a hill (lovely!) for lunch. Stanton is a beautiful town – all houses are the old Cotswolds stone – flowers are blooming everywhere. The sun’s out intermittently. In the distance, rolling hills and vales…

Hiking around Stanton

After lunch, we set off for Stanway, walking “The Cotswolds Way”, an historic 100+ mile long footpath, which runs through the heart of the Cotswolds. We reach Stanway – another historic and charming small village, without incident.

However, once we climb a (majorly) steep hill to where we are supposed to turn towards Snowshill – we wind up getting completely and utterly lost. After wittering around, climbing up and down for an hour, we finally find a promising path which actually leads us back to Stanton!

We’ve hiked through fields, orchards, deep hedgerowed lanes, roads, and through woods – just a lovely 9+-mile ramble, which I desperately needed! I loved it…

Back in the car for Broadway, finishing at the Horse and Hounds for shandies before saying goodbye.

Morton on Marsh and Bourton Manor

Awoke rather early for me –6:45 AM. I love the cup of tea and the moment of quiet in my room in the early morning. The sun was pouring in through my windows – a gorgeous day – again – awaited us.

The weather changes here almost hourly – one minute it can be glorious sun – then clouds appear – blow away – then come back – the sky darkens – then again, the sun is out full blast.

The most beautiful time of day here has been between 4-6PM. The air is soft, the sun shines but not as intensely, and the sky completely clears. All is bathed in the soft golden sunlight, and Jane Austen’s ghost hovers nearby.

The Manor House – absolutely beautiful

Today we drove to Morton on the Marsh after breakfast and – quite by accident – parked across from a stunning house called Bourton Manor. The gardens were open to the public – the prettiest I have seen yet – manicured lawns, massed flower borders, topiaries, mazes, finials, stonework, espaliers with various beautiful climbing vines and flowers – roses abounded, highly scented – there is a “white garden” with stocks, roses, daisies – I loved this garden, and the house is an architectural gem.

and gardens

From there,  on to the Falconry down the road to watch a peregrine falcon display, and then on to the nearby Arboretum. After this, we drove to Burford, a pretty (and not so small) market town, with lovely shops along a winding hilly main street.

Snowshill – could anything be prettier?

When we arrived back at Sheepscombe House, it was 5PM– I went for an hour’s walk again up around fields and hills, discovering that exquisite view of Snowshill…I think one of the most beautiful in England.

Another lovely day. Tomorrow, we leave for London!

Blenheim Palace

Up for breakfast – and on the road to Blenheim Palace, which we tour and hear all about the Marlborough family…and not enough about Churchill! But what history! The gardens were also incredible…but the air had actually turned chilly, so we didn’t linger. We got back in the car and determined to find Windsor…suffice it to say, we did not! So we stopped closer to Gatwick for a lunch/dinner…then found The Little Foxes (the less said about that, the better), went for a quick drink, and so to bed…

Blenheim Palace

And thus ended the latest English sabbatical…I couldn’t have asked for better weather, better countryside, better food…just more hikes! But it was great. Now I know why I keep going back…and back…and….

Beautiful

Scotland Aye – hiking the Highlands and Islands

I arrived at Gatwick, and remembering my earlier vow to never drive in London again, caught a taxi to The Green Park Hotel in Mayfair, arriving about 7:30 AM. No room was available, so my taxi driver took me on a quick tour of London. We drove ’round St. John’s Wood (disappointing), Notting Hill (adorable), Buckingham Palace, Regent’s Park (glorious), Hyde Park, and various other points of interest…many of which I have seen before, but loved seeing again.

I dressed in woolly tights and sweater, with a cashmere pullover tied around my waist…and I was melting. It was 80 degrees outside – soon to become even warmer! (Why didn’t I check the weather here before I left!) Everyone was in shorts and sleeveless dresses – except for me. No matter: the sun shone -it was glorious weather! London was in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave.

Around 10AM, it’s back to the appealing small hotel located on Half Moon Street (love that name) in Mayfair. The room was still not ready. I entered their (again charming) sitting room and read and waited, read and waited til I thought my eyes would fall out – or in. Finally, I staggered to the front desk. “Is there a room – any room – available YET?!” A card key is handed over: “Room 224.” (A note on card keys: why do I have so much trouble with these things? And what is wrong with a key?! But I’ve gotten over that!)

London townhouses

Calling Judy to let her know I’d finally arrived, I crashed for five-six hours – the minute my head hit the pillow, I was out like the proverbial light, waking up only when I heard the door opening and her “my god…she’s still asleep!”

Out for a quick walk around the little streets, so evocative of London. One small street dead-ended into a couple of pubs or restaurants, and everywhere crowds of young professionals were drinking and enjoying the night air. This heat wave is unprecedented.

Returning to the hotel, we ate dinner, talked a mile a minute, then fell asleep. Initially out like a light again, I woke in the wee hours to the sound of trucks – large and small – zooming down the lane ALL NIGHT- and the crash and tinkle of breaking glass as the recyclers picked up the recycle bins (reminded me of New York). Not a peaceful night.

Invernesse

Up at 9AM, Judy and I called Room Service, ate a quick breakfast and took a cab to her son’s townhouse – four stories of delightful house in a mews around the corner from Buckingham Palace. It was light and airy (the townhouse, not Buckingham Palace) and from the top floor could be seen endless views of the chimney pots of London. The kitchen/dining room looked out onto a small walled ivy-covered terrace, and from there across the road to the park – I believe we landed in a chapter of Mary Poppins!

Everyone was delightful and delighted to see us – but we only had time to stay a brief while, pick up a couple of things at the shops, then take a taxi to Gatwick airport -at a cost of one hundred pounds, no kidding! So far, I have spent 200 pounds of the 500 I brought and 160 pounds of it have been taxi fares!

The River Ness in Invernesse

Onward to Invernesse. From brilliant sunshine and weather so balmy we might well be in the Bahamas – to Invernesse: cold, drizzling and misty – very Scottish indeed. We walked along the River Ness (not too far away from the Loch – which, when we asked – yet another – taxi driver if anyone still sees the Loch Ness Monster, he replied: ‘I don’t think it’s a monster, but I think there’s SOMETHING there.’ Eerie!)

A street in Invernesse alongside the River Ness

Finally, slightly chilled and pretty damp, we ended up in our hotel’s pub, quaffing ale and Scotch, and having a nice chat with a couple at the bar who happen to be from Pennsylvania, are photographers, and had just spent two weeks on a very wet and windy Isle of Skye!

Dinner – repacking – and so to bed.

Loch Broom and Ullapool

No sleep, as usual, but I’m sure it’s all related to stress and jet lag. Breakfast of muesli and coffee, and packing in time to meet our group at 10AM. Outside – it was glorious weather! Verrry nice, after the drizzle and drear of Saturday afternoon and night. White clouds scudded across a blue, blue sky.

We met Tom, Bob, Jennifer, Kent and Gail, Roger, Lew and Susan here, and we all climbed into the van and drove through beautiful countryside – up hilly, twisted roads – making me a trifle seasick! Bob – one of our guides – pulled over to the side of the road at a “wishing well” where all sorts of pieces of filthy and ragged cloth were tied to trees and stumps. It is traditional to tie or drop a personal item here (I offered a mint) and make a wish. I wished for continuing great weather!

The Ceilidh Inn in Ullapool

We arrived at the Ceilidh Inn in Ullapool, dropped off our luggage, and hiked to Loch Broom, entrancing and smelling heavenly. Our hike took us down to a pebbled rock beach across gorse and heather, through tussocky boggy grass, and finally to the top of a small tor overlooking the loch.

Hiking around Loch Broom

The sun was shining and all was merry and bright. On returning, Roger and I promptly went for a walk up a meandering footpath bordered by blackberry bushes (unripe), fern, celandines, daisies and other small shrubs of varying descriptions…very English (although I wouldn’t say this to a Scot.)

Our first hike in Ullapool countryside

After this short excursion, we wandered back to the hotel, in time to prepare for cocktails, and then dinner. Dinner was: cauliflower soup, lentils with mushrooms, and fruit salad – so healthy!

Afterward, Brian gave a brief talk on what to expect on our hikes, and Tom spoke of the early history of the Highlands. Bob, our third guide, had lulled himself to sleep, and was snoring gently in a corner, so we missed his part of the program.

After all this activity, I was so ready for bed – but it certainly wasn’t ready for me. What on earth was wrong!? Sleep I could not – possibly because I am cold and overtired. Naturally I drifted off a short while before I was due to get up.

The Bone Caves and the Highlands

By 7:30 AM, we had breakfast, and were off to the Museum to view a brief film on Scotland. Then it was on to the hike. The day was not quite as crystal clear – rain was forecast -but the sun was shining so we didn’t worry about it. We picked up our picnic sandwiches at the front desk, and were now ready for a full day out in the Highlands of Scotland…

Our group at the Bone Caves

The first stretch took us up a steep and winding hill to the Bone Caves, where we sheltered from the wind and had some refreshment (water). We were told that the oldest inhabitants of Scotland come from here, (at least, their bones were found here.) I think we were in an area called Inchnadampf. After this, most of the group opted to ramble back down the hill at this point, and eat lunch on their way back to the van.

Some of the best, freshest and chilliest water in the world

Five of us – all women – chose the “long walk,” challenging and quite grueling. We began by hiking up an 1100 foot hill – not too high, but since there was no trail, we climbed over rabbit holes, heather, tussocky bundles of grass and boggy ground – straight up – all designed to turn our ankles at the drop of a stick. (This is where really good hiking boots, covering the ankle, are a must, she said knowingly.) We were all breathing quite heavily by the time we reached the top – but more to come!

The top of this mountain led to yet another mountain, and up and up we went. Finally, atop a crest surrounded by the spectacular views of mountains and gorges – we sat for lunch.

We were hot to begin with, but the wind was blowing and the sun began sailing in and out of clouds; and pretty soon it was really cold. Quickly finishing our lunch and taking a private moment, we were soon back on our merry way over the mountains.

One of many streams throughout the Highlands

The trail-less ground became more and more treacherous – as well as boggier and boggier. Streams crossed our path, across which we leapt from stone to stone, or boulder to boulder, or we inched across tiny wooden bridges – all slippery and wobbly. All in all, challenging! (Note here: there are no trees in the Highlands…at least, not anywhere we were….but lots of ferns and scrub.) By the time we found the downward trail, we had been hiking for about 6-1/2 hours – approximately 10 miles.

The sun comes and goes – at one point, it begins raining – hot – took off jacket – wet – put on raincoat – rain stopped – hot – took off raincoat – rain pelted down – rammed on raincoat!

An enchanting castle ruin at the end of the day’s hike

We reached the van and piled in. Tom, our guide, drove us to a beautiful little ruin of a castle on the way back to Ullapool, where we disembarked to take photographs.

The castle ruin – an enchanted spot

Susan, Jennifer, Tom and I rambled over to the castle -again, hopscotching across two streams to get to the island on which it sat. The grass surrounding it had been cropped over time by sheep, and wass like green velvet – the sky began clearing to a deep cerulean blue, and all was quiet and peaceful. Beautiful. One of many perfect moments.

Rambling around this beautiful tiny castle ruin

Then back in the van, and back to the Inn – dinner- hot water bottle – and bed!

Loch Torridon

Loch Torridon Country House Hotel

On the go at 9AM – another beautiful day began as we piled into our respective vans for the hour or so trip to Loch Torridon Country House Hotel – an enchanting hunting lodge-turned-hotel. It was like something from a Sir Walter Scott novel. I instantly fell in love (that happens a lot!).

Today we had the option of a short or a long walk, so several of us opted for the long. It started gently enough as we began our climb over endless hills and dales – although I did manage to fall in the first major stream I came to, slipping on one of those dratted boulders!

The bothy

After a couple of hours or so, we arrived at a “bothy” – a small empty hut in the middle of the hills where we unloaded our gear and had lunch. It was charming. The sun was shining – and though it was cool, the air was so clear and fresh, and we had plenty of time for pictures.

Rosemary, Judy, Gail and Kent in front of the bothy

After the “bothy,” we must decide whether to continue or turn back. Several of us decided to continue. What a hike: we seem to be taking part in a marathon! After hiking miles across mountains, we circled back. Here Tom said: The track from here is straightforward, so meander all you want…

Ha! I was the only one who “meandered” – and found myself suddenly surrounded by panoramic hills with no-one in sight and several tracks to choose from! I had a moment of extreme panic, until, finally, the top of Tom’s head emerges like the sun over the horizon, and I jog-trotted thankfully towards him to catch up.

From here it was downhill. We hit the trail, which was totally rocky and stony – galloping at a pace that seemed destined to turn one’s ankle – were we trying to catch a train?! No time for scenic views – all we could do is watch our feet. I was exhausted when we rolled in around 5 o’clock.

A shower, a moment’s rest, and then we were in to dinner.

This is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful hotel! I shared a room with Judy, and it was large and well-appointed, comfortable and elegant. The bathroom was huge and we could look from its windows out onto immaculate green lawns edged with colorful flowers, on into the paddock where the cows were grazing.

Loch Torridon cattle graze in the hotel’s paddock

Outdoors was even more spectacular. Besides the sculptured grounds, all was green…green, green grass, surrounded by woods, mountains, and the silvery-gray, entrancing loch. Loch Torridon was – and no doubt still is – a beautiful, enchanting place – my favorite of the trip.

Loch Torridon and a Gentle Walk

The “back yard” – Loch Torridon Hotel

Wake up, got outta bed, dragged a comb across my head…zooming around as usual, in to breakfast – I loved my breakfast! Mueslix, scrambled eggs and bacon – the usual stuff but tasted great and needed for energy.

Again, we had the option: long or short walk. This time, I opted for the short. What the heck…do I think I’m Tenzing Norgay here?

On our short walk

Hoisting up our backpacks, we picked up our picnic lunch, and were off. Susan and Jennifer took the long walk with Brian and Bob. The rest of us went for the lower ground.

The sky was blue, the air was crisp. Our walk began up a winding footpath through glorious woods, to open stretches of boggy fields in which sheep and cows grazed or placidly slept. Pheasants ran through the underbrush – it was absolutely idyllic, one of our most beautiful and peaceful days.

A brief break on the short walk

After stopping for a drink and snack, several of us walked on for a mile or so, coming to an old stone bridge crossing a gurgling stream, where we ate our picnic lunch in the shade of the willow trees (and it was really nice to see trees). The sky was the bluest it had been since arriving in Scotland. Not a sound broke the stillness, except for the song of the brook. Heaven.

Lunch break

This was one of the amazing things in this land: The absolute silence of the Highlands, but for the water. It’s completely satisfying. No birds sang – there seemed to be few or no birds (they must be somewhere around!). But the sound of rushing water was everywhere… wherever you turned were waterfalls, lochs and streams or seas – gushing, gurgling, roaring, rushing, babbling or splashing – a country seemingly circumscribed by water.

Here a cow, there a cow…

We walked back over gently rolling paths, through green woods scented with pine to our hotel (approximately seven miles round trip.)

The grounds of Loch Torridon Hotel – I never wanted to leave

Susan, Jennifer, Brian and Bob, who’d taken the optional heavy duty hike, finally made it back around six that evening. Their walk sounded intense – 15 miles up and around a mountain, often plunging into boggy swamp to their knees, descending down sheer granite on the other side, according to Susan. The winds were so tempestuous, they needed to grip the cliff face to avoid being blown off the ledge. Part of the trip down was spent on all fours! They found it all exhilarating! I would’ve liked to say I did it, but I didn’t – and the “short walk” was so lovely, I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

The Isle of Skye and the Lighthouse

We are up and packed by 9AM, had a quick breakfast and were into the van heading for the storied Isle of Skye. The drive was so quiet and peaceful… gloriously beautiful … I love the Highlands.

Two hours later, we piled out of the vans in Kyle of Lockalsh for our only real shopping opportunity, which was great fun…then we drove over the bridge to Skye, paying an enormous toll to do so. I asked about but could not get “speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing…”

Our inn on the Isle of Skye

Our small, charming Inn on Skye was delightful (what else is new?!) Our tiny room had Laura Ashley pink and green chintz hangings, and a big burl wardrobe held our clothes. All the tea things were here.

Beginning our first hike on Skye

Dropping off our luggage, we were driven to the base of the cliff to begin our hike. The weather had changed drastically – it was grey and raining steadily. Raingear was hurriedly pulled from backpacks, and we hiked through the driving rain to the sea. Here’s how it went.

Hiking on the Isle of Skye

First, up a very stony and rocky trail, up and up…then down a steep, steep bank through bogs and over slippery lichened rock, then down the hillside where we slithered and slipped over rocks and heather. We made our way through many streams to boulders and small cliffs down which we clambered to the waiting shore.

Swimming with the seals

It was still raining steadily, and it was cold. Nonetheless, Jennifer, Brian, Tom and Bob donned bathing suits and plunged into the grey sea for a swim! Jennifer wanted to “swim with the seals,” which were cavorting and diving a safe distance from these crazy people who kept trying to take their picture.

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

Then again comes the option: Continue to the lighthouse or turn back. The sane amongst us chose to turn back. I was one of the few who opted to go on! By this time, I – and everyone else – was soaked to the skin. We clambered over some of the most treacherous countryside imaginable – down slippery rain-soaked rocks, slimy with lichen – plunging into boggy grass – going down, ever down – and finally coming to a green grassy sward and promontory – at the end of which was – the lighthouse! Hello, Virginia Woolfe! What an adventure. Challenging, but exhilarating at the same time!

The lighthouse overlooked a grey and stormy sea … we were at the end of the world. The sky was grey, the grass green, the lighthouse, white. The seagulls (finally, birds!) were an eerie note, rimming the lighthouse and the rocks below and cawing non-stop. Photographs were taken through soft  mist.

Are we happy yet? Yes!

After which, it started raining steadily and strongly. We took a different route back to the van, scrambling up through rocky watercourses, again plunging into mud and mire, slipping down and up rain-slick rocks and boulders…unbelievable.

Three hours later we arrived at the van. I was completely drenched. My boots had sunk ankle deep into the mud; my backpack – and all in it, including my money and passport – ditto. My pants were hanging from my body like clown pants; my hair was in rattails. The joy of the hike!

Back at the hotel, Judy corroborated this statement, also mentioning a drowned rat. She made me a cup of hot tea, and drew a hot bath – bliss!!

Then I dried off, had dinner, and got back fairly early to bed. Really tired tonight – no problem sleeping at all.

One tiny little glitch in this lovely place: hot water was NOT in abundance. Apparently, in getting a deep, hot bath, and washing my hair…I used up almost all the hot water on our side of the Inn! Bad girl!! I never told anyone, but one of the other hikers mentioned having to bathe in icy water…couldn’t understand why there was no hot! I kept mum on the subject.

The isle of Skye and the Back of Beyond

This was our last full day on the Isle of Skye. We arose as usual at 7AM, ate a good breakfast and piled in the vans for an hour’s ride to the boat we were to take to an uninhabited part of Skye.

On the road to the ferry, Isle of Skye

Susan, Linda, Jennifer and I shared the van with Brian and Tom – lots of room, and it was nice to be able to stretch out. About halfway to the boat – down narrow roads and high lanes banded by greenery starred with flowers – we were halted by a road paving crew blocking the path (a not infrequent occurrence). We took the opportunity to get out and hike to the boat, about half an hour’s walk. The weather by this time had turned crisp and sunny again, and the walk and the views were wonderful.

A windy, blustery day, as we walk to the ferry

Eventually our guides were able to drive the vans through the roadblock and catch up with us. We all piled onto the ferry, where we immediately donned our raingear as it had become chilly and damp over the grey, icy water. The ferry was large and carried a full load of people; it tool quite a while to reach the other side as we were taken to look at the seals resting on the rocky outcrops in the water. It is fascinating to see them – they respond with what seems to be equal fascination (although I doubt that).

The start of the hike

On arrival, we hiked up the mountainside. The weather had grown even chillier and more overcast – and the wind was whistling and howling around our ears. We ended up on a flat granite rock atop a hillside -our hoods up, raingear tied up to the chin. Here we picnicked, on what felt like the edge of the world. Although cold, misty, windy and wild – you can’t help but be exhilarated…

A quick break for lunch on the final Skye hike

Everyone was taking photographs, but despite the back-of-beyond feeling, we did not linger long. Another long or short walk was offered on the way back to the ferry. A couple of us actually thought it over, but in the end, common sense prevailed and we all opted to return to the boat, in the hopes of maybe getting in a little shopping – sounding more appealing by the minute!

Susan points the way – unfortunately the wrong way!

The ferry docked about 3:30PM, but again we are stymied by the same road-paving-crew when we attempted to drive back. After a 45 minute wait, during which we tried to complete a crossword in a Scottish newspaper (we were unable to understand a single clue – the puzzle was totally cryptic) we were finally on the move.

By the time we got to the first tiny town with a few shops, it was closing time. However, Susan managed to purchase a handknit sweater which is so thick, it could stand alone. It was very pleasant to ramble around for a bit, just looking and shopping and taking in the sights and talking to people who lived and worked here.

Scottish Bob, one of our terrific guides

By the end of this day, we were all pretty worn out. After dinner, all gathered in the chintz-splashed parlor in front of a roaring fire, to listen to Annie, a local Gaelic singer. The plaintive and poignant melodies and words of the folk songs underscored the melancholy beauty of  the place.

The romantic, legendary Isle of Skye had always been a dream journey. Bonnie Prince Charlie, sailing over the sea to Skye, is an old folk song that was sung by my mother when I was very young. I’ve never forgotten it.

Skye fulfilled all expectations. It was so very, very green and unspoiled, and relatively uninhabited. Tiny white houses dotted the landscape. Sheep were everywhere, rambling across hills and roads, unfenced and free. Our small inn was right on the water, and was so charming, with vines and roses clambering across walls and doors. We were surrounded by the loch on one side, mountains and hills and quiet land on other sides. It was isolated and remote – and mystical.

The Highlands were the same. They were green (or black, depending on which mountains you’re looking at), desolate, forbidding, ancient and timeless. No-one seems to live in the Highlands. The only sound you heard is that of water – waterfalls, streams, rills and lochs are everywhere – the rush and gurgle and song of water never stops. And all that you saw were the endless peaks and valleys with hardly a tree in sight. In the Highlands on a beautiful day, you were totally at one with nature; it was a spiritual experience to be alone here.

Hiking the Highlands

If the weather turned bad, however, the desolation and isolation become omnipresent. It often seemed you were either born in the Highlands and they were in your blood; or you cannot live there for long and survive. And if you’re of the city, then eventually the silence and isolation can become overwhelming. Those were my thoughts, anyway!

Eileen Donnan

Susan and I had planned the night before to get up at the crack of dawn and go for an hour’s walk before we are due to leave Skye. At 6:30 AM I crawled out of bed (well, okay, that’s the crack of dawn to me!), got dressed and met her outside my cottage. It was a lovely morning – hard to believe, as the worst gale to hit Scotland in 30 years was forecast! We walked down the quiet country lanes, enjoying the peace and circling the Inn- an altogether enjoyable ramble, getting back in time for a quick breakfast and then it was into the vans.

A short detour to a castle ruin high on a hill, and we were scrambling over tussocky grass and pebbly streams and up a short rise to a very, very narrow ledge – where we each clung to the stones and edged slowly across – or fell to boulders below! Once atop this hill, Brian read us some tales of Scotland, and had us act them out. For some reason, we also lined up in a row, each of us sitting on the knees of the person behind us, pretending to be rowing a Viking ship – don’t ask me why!

Then we inched back across the ledge – and drove to the most famous castle in Scotland for a brief tour – the Eileen Donnan. Its walls are 14 feet thick, and it was first built in the twelfth or thirteenth century, but burned in the 1700s. It was fully restored between 1912­-1932. It is history.

And then it was on to Invernesse, then London and back to reality. The Highlands of Scotland –a little uncanny, magical, poignant – but not for the faint of heart. But oh, what a wonderful hike!

A Cotswolds Ramble: 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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always the way. But we found it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Stanton and Snowshill, The Cotswolds – Chapter 5

Stanton, The Cotswolds

Stanton and Snowshill, the Cotswolds – Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrounded in part by woods…

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

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

Back garden of Snowshill Manor

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

After all, what is England without eccentricity?

Snowshill Manor ivy covered wall

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

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

Garden seat at Snowshill Manor

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

Snowshill Manor teahouse

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

Walking from Snowshill Manor to Snowshill

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

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

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

Clawfoot tub at Old Orchard

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

Exploring small Cotswolds villages – Chapter 4

Small Cotswolds villages – with our tour guide Steve – Chapter 4

Tuesday August 29…This is the day Steve, our tour guide, took us on a Cotswolds villages tour. It was a memorable day, among many…Steve is a terrific guide, and he had devised a splendid itinerary.

I had been hoping to see at least one park or garden designed by the wonderful landscape artist Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Steve surprised us with a visit to his (Brown’s) first manor house and landscape, Croome Court.

Covering over 1,170 acres of manmade parkland situated between the Rivers Avon and Severn and close to Pershore, it was primarily marshland when Capability Brown was chosen by the 6th Earl of Coventry in 1751 to design both the park and the manor house.

Today, while apparently still unfinished, the grounds contain a church, lakes and islands, bridges, grottos, meandering pathways, beautiful trees and lush bushes.  The stonework is wonderful. Adding to the melancholy beauty of the estate, the sky was overcast, and it was damp and a little chilly.

As early sunlight burned through intermittent cloud cover, we drove through the gently sloping hills of the Cotswolds countryside, green and golden.

Passing through many small villages, we pulled over for a few minutes off the beaten path at Elmley Castle for photographs of the Tudor-style cottages and ivy clad shops and restaurants.

We then wended our way to the two Slaughters, which straddle the banks of the River Eye.

 

The Slaughters name is not as bloody as it sounds; in old English, it apparently means “muddy place”…possibly! Under the now lowering English sky, we saw the meandering river crossed by stone bridges, and the charming cottages surrounding it.

Here we ate lunch at the Old Mill, a tiny riverside café run by a friend of Steve’s.

The small outdoor bathrooms (well, outdoor in the sense of not being in the cafe) had low-lying doorframes, and apparently ignoring the sign saying “Watch your head,” I immediately bashed mine against the lintel – looking and feeling rather idiotic since there was quite an audience to my momentary lapse and crossed eyes.

I didn’t feel quite so bad when, on a return visit to said bathroom, a woman coming out immediately cracked her head against the overhead beam. We both stared at one another, while I muttered consoling words to the effect of “I was an idiot myself” – no, not really but whatever! (I think they need a bigger sign!)

After lunch, we ambled along the river, as the sky continued to darken, with scudding gray clouds a backdrop to the timeless English landscape.

We wandered down the river bank, crossed over small bridges, and basically enjoyed the foliage beginning to turn an autumn-y rust and red.

And then our next stop was Burford. David had remembered a special visit there in 1979, so that was next – it’s a charming town with a lovely long ascending high street, bustling with shoppers and tourists. (I was there in September 2007, not long after the great flood.) We found the church and graveyard.

There was a lot of reconstruction going on, but I managed to take pictures of him among the sarcophagi. Talk about a walk among the tombstones!

It was time to get back in the car, and Steve drove us through Bourton-on-the-Water (“very touristy” so we didn’t stop, and I had been there in 2006) to Minster Lovell. This is a village I have never heard of, and was a delightful, absolutely charming surprise.

The old grade A-listed church, St. Kenelm’s, dates back to 14th-15th century.

Behind the church were tall lacy ruins of what used to be a great manor house set in a wide green lawn alongside the river.

Children played on the grass. I loved it…it was beautifully peaceful, really a respite from the “other world” we normally inhabit.

The village was equally wonderful.

After which, Steve wanted to take us to the Cotswolds Woolen Weavers, a terrific woolen mill in the village of Filkins housed in an 18th century barn.

It is the last company in the area to implement the traditions of woolen cloth design and manufacture, according to the site on Google.

ENGLAND 2017 415

The wool was exquisite, with a soft satiny sheen.

I plunged my hand into a basket of raw sheep’s wool, and when I withdrew it, my hand was coated in lanolin…so soft!

(I was also taken by a soap called Old Goat – nothing to do with anyone I know – just an eccentric name with a wonderful scent!)

I wanted to buy everything I saw! Steve and David helped me to choose a coat out of many (hard!) and David bought a classy wool sweater. I had to be dragged out of there kicking and screaming (internally!) I could’ve furnished my house in Houston with the sofas, chairs, blankets, throws and accessories that were displayed against the old stone walls.

After Steve pushed me into the car, he drove us back to Broadway, dropping us off at the Broadway Hotel bar for dinner. David had two martinis; I had a Guinness, with an absolutely fabulous hamburger. Seriously, it was absolutely top notch. Then, replete (very) and relaxed (even more so), we walked back along the road to Old Orchard, happy campers we. And so ended the day of our lovely satisfying tour…thank you Steve…it was the best

The Cotswolds – Broadway, The Cotswolds Way and Chipping Campden – Chapter 3

 

The Cotswolds – Broadway, The Cotswolds Way and Chipping Campden – Chapter 3

Saturday August 26…Our first full day in the Cotswolds… and the weather here continues beautifully sunny, in a word, perfect! Once we got ourselves out of our respective beds at Old Orchard, and puttered around the house and the grounds (finding out that the toilet in the potting shed was Royal Doulton – talk about keeping up appearances!), we walked into Broadway.

The road from Old Orchard to Broadway was fairly narrow, often with little space to leap out of the way of cars whose drivers apparently thought they were auditioning for the Grand Prix…but we were none the worse for wear despite a few nettles getting in our way. And just looking at the old houses lining the road, or over hedgerows to fields that ranged far and wide was such pleasure, it was worth a little scramble or two.

We went for a lazy ramble along Broadway’s high street, stopping in the Swan for half a pint of the local IPA, called Ubu (don’t ask me why the name, but it was absolutely delicious) and some lunch (yummy as well).

I love the Swan…it is English to the core, and having a drink there is very enjoyable, as is people watching! One of the great things I noted in all these small Cotswolds towns – and other parts of England as well – is how welcome – and how well behaved – dogs are, in restaurants and pubs.  Dishes of water were set outside shops – no dog ever goes thirsty!

Broadway is a delightful English village, with a wide green, and not overrun, on this day, with tourists (such as ourselves!)

The flowers were in full bloom, and were brilliant – as that part of the street lined with pots of the most vivid red geraniums attested. We were fascinated by the architecture, which used mostly Cotswolds stone that gives off that buttery glow even when the sun isn’t shining. I don’t care if it is “tourist-y” – I love it!

Later in the afternoon we stopped for a cream tea at the Broadway inn and pub. David was not taken with the clotted cream, but we both loved the scones and jam…then it was back to the grocery for more Tin Loaf, and return to Old Orchard.

Time for evening cocktails! So we sat on the terrace in the rear of the house, looking out over the beautiful grounds with the running brook at the bottom of the garden, beyond to still green fields dotted with the white grazing sheep, and back still further into the setting sun. Well, I thought I’d died and gone to English heaven.

Sunday August 27… Today we decided to find the trailhead for the Cotswolds Way, on the other side of Broadway.

The Cotswolds Way is one of the oldest footpaths in England.

It was another gorgeously sunny day, and this part of the footpath was unshaded by trees along the actual trail, so by the time we managed close to a mile, we were rather warm.

We had packed a picnic lunch (hardboiled eggs and watercress sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, crisps, apples from the orchard)

so we found shade beneath some (I think) beech trees, and unpacked the feast. We sat on the grass, looking down into the green valley where Broadway lay, and all the fields and rolling hills around and beyond us. You felt you could just dance over the low-lying hills and fields like a dandelion head blown in the wind.

(Obviously not dancing here!) I pulled myself together, and walked over the crest of the hill behind us to see how far it was to the Broadway Tower. It was at least another mile away, and as I was unsure as to David’s desire to walk any further, we packed up and trotted back down to Broadway.

The Horse & Hounds pub came into view, and a half pint sounded perfect, so of course we stopped in to check out their local IPA, then found Lloyd’s Bank for some money, and after that, moved on to the Lygon Arms for the second half pint! After which, we walked to the end of the high street for dinner at a local Indian restaurant…the food was fabulous, but I was absolutely stuffed (no surprise there) and we brought half the meal back to Old Orchard with us.

Monday August 28…Today we spent a beautifully sunny (warm!) day in Chipping Campden.

Steve was busy with a tour, so he sent Roz to drive us there, she was really delightful. She dropped us off at our checkpoint (the willow tree in the town’s center), and told us she’d meet us there at 4PM.

We spent time in the beautiful, historic Church of St James, with its old, old carvings, stained glass and memorials, and wandered outside to take a walk amongst the ancient tombstones.

We had tea and scones in a hotel pub which we found down a narrow alleyway;

walked up Sheep Street to one of the loveliest thatched roofed cottages I’ve ever seen…

and, further down the road, noted a girl with purple hair; chatted with Peter, an American from Seattle; and had a Ploughman’s Lunch in a teashop.

People are so kind here. As we were wandering around the town square, a gentleman came up to us to tell us about a lovely little gallery exhibiting photographs and beautifully framed miniature paintings of Chipping Campden in all seasons. We had ten minutes to spare, so dashed inside, where I bought a framed print of a snowy winter’s day in the surrounding fields , which I loved.  Then we found a grocery store that was open (it was Bank Holiday) as we were in dire need of cheese and ale, and met Roz back at the willow tree. Chipping Campden is absolutely delightful…now I wonder if I can afford to live there?!

The English Cotswolds – From Cornwall to Jane Austen Country and Old Orchard, Chapter 2

The English Cotswolds – From Cornwall to Jane Austen Country and Old Orchard, Chapter 2

Friday, August 25…

Taking our train from Sandplace Station to Moreton-in-Marsh involved a few of those train changes that, with a heavy piece of luggage, demanded diplomatic negotiation in order not to break people’s toes, both embarking and getting off! The two stations where we were to change were Liskeard and Reading.

The transfer at Liskeard was hilarious as, once off the train, we dragged our bags up a ramp, and over a bridge to one side of the station, only to be flagged down from the opposite side by a woman who apparently could tell we were on the wrong side of the tracks for Reading. So it was back up the ramp and over the bridge, and we got on the train just before it rolled out of the station.

Once at Reading, it was back off the train, and a search for the nearest bathroom ensued – the trek seemed to take us halfway back to Liskeard (just kidding!) but it certainly was not around the nearest corner. I left David with the bags and galloped off. Then it was his turn, galloping down the platform somewhat like the Ride of the Valkyries… When all that was taken care of, we stopped at a bakery for a sausage roll and a spinach and feta pie – some of the best pastries we’d tasted!

Up came the train for Moreton-in-Marsh, and we had reserved seats…hurray! So we enjoyed a pleasant trip through the most beautiful sunny countryside, the fields laid out on either side like a rich green quilt.

At the end of it all, Steve, our driver, was waiting patiently…and even more patiently when I had to unzip my luggage on the platform and dive beneath everything to find the folder with all the passcode information for getting into Old Orchard! (This is Steve, later in the trip, sharing a drink…)

And we were there, and we didn’t have to move again for ten whole days. I had been looking forward to seeing Old Orchard, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be…and more!

Steve drove us first to Budgen’s, a small completely stocked grocery in Broadway, where we bought provisions for the next few days, not knowing what there was at the house. Then he drove us home.

From the moment we opened the wooden double gates to the sweeping gravel drive,

our first view of The Old Orchard country house took us into Jane Austen territory.

A small wrought iron gate led into a flagstoned enclosure, filled with giant pots of hydrangeas, to the back door. David, as Keeper of the Keys, opened the door, and we walked into the kitchen, which then led to the living room and staircase, and beyond that, the library, which looked out through square-paned windows to the back garden; and then to neighboring meadows where sheep were grazing.

The sunlight was golden, the air warm and buttery. A stream wandered along the edge of the grounds.

To one side of the house was the orchard and vegetable garden

…apples, plums, pears and a grape arbor, with the veggie garden offering green runner beans which were wonderful.

I vowed then and there to eat an apple a day…they were sweet and crisp, with a white flesh faintly veined with green.

The three upstairs bedrooms (and two bathrooms) all looked out to the Cotswolds countryside. Mine happened to be papered with roses, and had two casement windows, one with pink and gold climbing roses framing far green fields; the other looking down over the sweep of the gravelled drive and broad expanse of lawn dotted with trees.

Sofas and chairs throughout the house, covered with a pale heavy material lightly figured with blue or pink scattered flowers, were downfilled and comfortable. The kitchen held every conceivable appliance, including a hot water tap that gave us steaming hot water for tea and coffee…immediate satisfaction!

This was our first evening at Old Orchard. Even our tour guide, Steve, was stunned by its beauty, both of the grounds and the house.

Our mornings mostly followed the same easygoing pattern, since we didn’t want to be constantly meeting some deadline or other. We woke to pale sunny skies, cool and clear.

Once I woke early to sunrise over the fields filled with sheep; so beautiful to see the colors of grass and trees deepen and glow.

One very interesting sidebar here in the Cotswolds: when I turn out the light to sleep, I never draw the curtains…and it is dark as a cave. I literally cannot see my hand in front of my face, because there are no street lights, no car headlights. No city lights…and the silence is profound. Just the occasional baa-ing of a lonely sheep. I haven’t experienced this since I was a child…pretty wonderful!

I always opened the windows to check the views, watching as the roses, one by one, died away and were replaced by others equally beautiful. Padded downstairs to the kitchen, where David was usually already up and having his breakfast. Made tea from PG Tips.

Then I would walk out to the orchard, and pick apples from a tree by the garden wall in the far corner, well-laden with the reddening fruit.

Sometimes we picked plums. That was usually my breakfast, but once in a while, we had soft boiled eggs with the wonderful fresh bread from Budgen’s – called, for some unknown reason, Tin Loaf. Or David had muesli. And we had this wonderful watercress, tiny leaved and peppery….now why can’t I get this in Houston!!

Then, after cleaning up and making my bed, checking my emails and texts, I roamed the grounds taking photographs.

I didn’t “feed the ducks, reprove my wife, play Handel’s Largo on the fife…” as one poet would have it…yet the feeling of being out of time persisted…it was Jane Austen territory, and we were lucky – so lucky – to be there.

___________________________

David was named Keeper of the Keys

Rosemary was named Keeper of the Fob – which opened and closed the front gates

________________________________

Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast – Chapter 1

Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast – Chapter 1 of our English holiday

Thursday August 18….these are fraught days, trying to pull everything together for our 2+ week sabbatical in England (Cornwall and the Cotswolds). I have never been so tired getting ready for a trip! Just the technology alone is enough to make you shudder. New tablet, new keyboard, pass codes, TravelPass, WiFi apps and passwords, converters…may the stress all fade away the moment I board that plane!

Monday August 21…on way to airport at 11…I am SO ready. Our flight on British Airways is smooth and uneventful (no sleep though).

Tuesday August 22…I glided through Customs, and picked up my luggage, waiting a short time for David to make it through. It all took a little longer than we’d thought. We missed our first train at Paddington for Looe, so decided breakfast was a good idea (it was a full English breakfast, and it was goo-ood!) Then onward to catch 12 o’clock. On the train, we had a high adrenalin surge when a man boarded and began to rant at the top of his lungs, I forget about what. A passenger finally calmed him down. David and I both went into “blank stare” mode, as did the rest of the passengers. Nothing further happened, and the man disembarked at the next stop. Whooo!

On the train from Paddington to Looe, we also experienced – quite by accident – our first “quiet car”. It was MARVELOUS. Very few people were in this car, but once we were seated, an older woman embarked, looking for her reserved seat and carrying on a conversation with herself– quite loudly.  Once she found her seat, she proceeded to take out her cell phone and start another conversation at the top of her lungs. At which point, the conductor came down the aisle and quietly (!) asked her to move to another car if she wished to use her cell, as this one was a QUIET car.  Which she did.  As she moved away, we could still hear her voice drifting back through the corridor… It was all very low key and courteous. I do love quiet cars!!

The ensuing silence, the sound of the wheels on the rail, and the foggy day lulled me into a short nap.

But I woke up as the sun burned the fog away as the day wore on – beautiful views of the sea on one side, and green fields and trees on the other. We kept telling one another not to forget to ask the conductor to drop us off at Sandplace (part of the Looe Valley Line).

How to start a fairytale?

Take a tiny train to a charmingly small station (Sandplace) the size of a postage stamp, where you have to ask the conductor to stop the train and let you disembark!

Gill, who with Martin, owns Polraen Country House, was waiting for us beyond the gate, and drove us the tenth of a mile home! Since it was a beautiful day, we had tea in the garden, and I took a deep breath. Here we are…finally, in Cornwall.

After a quick wash up, Gill drove us into Looe for dinner – to a charming restaurant called The Old Sail Loft. I opted for fish and chips – and when the order came, the fish, which was haddock and wonderful, was as big as the side of a barn – it looked like the sail on a boat. If only I could’ve finished it! It was light and crisp and totally delish – as were the chips, all soused with vinegar. This came with mushy peas with mint, a dish I have recreated since returning home…still yummy!

Wednesday, August 23 …I awoke around 9:30 (after 35+ hours no sleep), and went: OMG breakfast is over by 10…so I dragged on some clothes and whooshed downstairs by ten to 10. David and I both ordered the full English breakfast, prepared by Martin – scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast and butter, hot fresh coffee, strawberries… was that ever good! (Many good memories are food-related!)

We then walked around Polraen’s garden, so intensely green it almost glowed…the day was overcast, cool and fresh with a few spits of rain, certainly not enough to prohibit our day in Polperro. I cleaned myself up, we called a taxi and we were off. Crystal Cars took us halfway down the hill into the village, and let us out close to a small stall selling whelks, cockles, prawns, and other seafood…we promised ourselves to come back for the cockles, but we never found the stall again!

We wandered around all the narrow winding streets, taking in the tiny houses interspersed with shops, restaurants, pubs and galleries.

Everywhere you looked was a picture. Houses were built into or hacked out of bedrock, stacked up on the cliffsides, looking out over steel gray seas – or the resultant mud/sand flats should the sea have receded.

As the day wore on, the cloud cover burned away, the sun came out, and everything was bathed in the soft golden sunlight.

We found the entrance to the cliff walk to Talland Bay, and I was off, leaving David peacefully ensconced on a bench looking over low hedges of flowers to the sea and headland.

It was a wonderful walk…through high hedgerows, green and vivid or else splashed with flowers from freesia to foxglove and others I don’t have a clue about.

Gardens were hidden behind rock walls or old wooden gates covered in ivy and ferns, often with winding steps up to houses glimpsed between the trunks of trees.

I was so happy. A gentle breeze ruffled the greenery, and it was about 70 degrees.

I finally had to turn around as it was getting late, met David and we wandered into the Noughts and Crosses pub for a half pint of the local Dartmoor IPA – perfect.

And so home to Polraen Country House, where Martin made us crab and salmon sandwiches, which we ate out on the terrace in the cool air of the evening. A perfect day, in every way.

Thursday August 24…We decided to take the train to Truro and St Ives. The weather this day was absolutely beautiful from the get-go– sunny, warm with breezes. We flagged down the Sandplace train (one of my favorite things to do), and embarked for Liskeard, where we disembarked for the train to Truro via St Erth.

Only to find, after disembarking, we had about 20 minutes before we had to catch the train to St Erth, so had a coffee and then galloped uphill back to the station…

Poor David’s ankles were giving him some grief, but we made the train, changed at St Erth and got to St Ives around 4:15, only to find out we had to take the last train back at 5:30!!

Somewhere in all this, we met a genuine eccentric named Susan who, I thought, was homeless. It turned out she was married, and “lived on the line,” by which she meant she rode the trains every day, all day long. Well known to all who lived around Looe, she was a fixture in the station and I was glad to have met her.

We managed to get to St. Ives without further incident.

The sea and sky were crystal clear, the shore just beautiful, the weather incredible.

Lots of people were holidaying…the car park by the station was packed.

But time was running by us, and after a quick coffee, we were back on the train, and got to Sandplace at 8:40… then we had dinner at The Plough. Lovely…but I was almost too tired to eat!

Friday August 25… We awoke to a cool cool morning…so fresh and clean, sunny and bright, but what a wrench to leave!!

I had my usual satisfying Polraen English breakfast…scrambled eggs, English bacon, grilled tomatoes, toast…yum-o! We’d packed the night before, but when it came time to leave, it was so hard to say goodbye to Gill and Martin and Cornwall.

England is magic everywhere you turn, but Cornwall has its own special brand of timeless magic. The pebbled narrow streets of Polperro, Truro, St. Ives, Looe, Land’s End…the ancient  houses, built into, or from, the bedrock of the cliffs, flowers cascading from old stone walls. Cornwall’s history, of pirates and smugglers, Cornish pasties,  hidden caves, the sea constantly slashing the rocks at the cliffs’ base, the narrow footpaths framed with hedgerows as old as England with steps leading to some mysterious dwelling, or down to the silver seas below.

Mysterious and enchanting, under lowering gray skies and the timelessness of path, water, air and the call of the seagulls…this is magical Cornwall.

Martin drove us to Sandplace Station,

and then we changed at Liskeard (but didn’t see Susan) for a three hour ride to Reading, changed again for final trek to Moreton-in-Marsh, where Steve our taxi driver picked us up.

And then on to Broadway…and a gentler, more pastoral sort of magic.

Italy: Hiking the molto bellisima Cinque Terra

Our happy hiking group on the hotel patio in Santa Margherita

On Our Way to Italy
After much frantic packing the night before, I am on my merry way to the airport at 8:30 in the morning to begin my first-ever trip to Italy. Although it is drizzling rain and I am tired and cranky, I mellow out on the plane, meet Lene in Newark, and it is onward to Italy, a land which has always entranced me!

Genoa Nervi
We arrive at the Milano airport, where we clean up and hairspray, hairspray, hairspray! (Unfortunately, Lene leaves hers in the bathroom…much discussion of this throughout the trip.) We drive into Milan with a silver-tongued taxi driver who wants fifty dollars American and almost runs out of gas on the outskirts of town. Much commotion! Once in the train station, it is disconcerting to find that no-one speaks English! We finally find our train and settle for the ride, by which time we are exhausted.

Off the train at Genoa, on the train to Nervi
Here we are in Nervi…a beautiful town. We taxi to the Hotel Pagoda, an elegant and charming villa awash in hot-pink bougainvillea, unpack and are out again for a 2-1/2 hour walk around the village.

A panoramic view at the start of the Cinque Terra

We reach the sea front from an increasingly winding tree-lined path which rambles through a wrought-iron gateway into a small tunnel out onto the front. Such glorious views – sea, cliffs and coastline are magnificent, spectacular. We continue back through the rose garden and park, and so back to the hotel. As we look from the window of our room, the hills strewn with colorful villas look like a Renaissance painting. Soon it’s dinner: scampi tempura, sea breen and pasta. Yum! Again…no-one speaks English…trying to make ourselves understood with the tiny bit of Italian learned prior to the trip is not easy! 

A beautiful doorway leading to the magical coast

Walk Up the Coast in Genoa Nervi
We wake at 1:15 PM! Our group meets at 2!! Pulling ourselves together, we gallop down to the bar where we meet Mario (gorgeous) and Diane, Jean and Jann. Immediate rapport.Then Barb arrives, and we take off for a walk up the coast and all around the town. Once back at the Villa Pagoda, we meet the rest of our small group in the garden for drinks and hors d’ouvres. Mario gives us a brief talk about the hikes to come…we’re surrounded by roses, awash in scent, and the weather is heavenly.

First champagne, then dinner: everyone seems to be in our age group. The table is beautifully set, very elegant, with lots of Italian food and wine. Then at 10PM, it’s upstairs to pack for the move to Riomaggiore the next morning.

Riomaggiore and Manarola
The sun is intense, and the weather is perfect. The bus takes us to Riomaggiore, the first town of the Cinque Terra.

Although we forget a bag, and have to turn back, the driver narrowly missing the back of a row of parked cars, we are soon on our way over the Ligurian Mountains.
We drive through many tunnels, over bridges…ears popping. Vineyards cover the hills, and clumps of red poppies are everywhere. The gray-green of the olive trees underscores the brilliant colors of the flowers.

We come to La Spezia, the second largest port in Italy, which houses the Naval Academy. La Spezia’s main street is lined with orange trees absolutely drenched with fruit. Here we stop for a quick coffee break.

One hour later, somewhat frazzled, we roll into Riomaggiore. We ramble through the town stopping for lunch at an outdoor cafe. Stray cats meow around our table (I find this upsetting, but I am the only one). Lunch is tomato and mozzarella cheese, and a delicious crusty bread. Our real hike then begins, across the cliffs to Manarola. The views are so spectacular, it’s hard to know where to look and what is the most beautiful.

Immediate impressions: villas on hillsides, all colors – pink, mauve, yellow, green, painted trompe l’oile. The flowers are in bloom everywhere – on ledges, stone walls, in window boxes, on bridges, and trees. Immense vivid hydrangeas, bright red and yellow poppies, hollyhocks, pots of margarita daisies, bougainvillea – a deep deep purple. Our hike is challenging: about four hours on trails often as narrow as a footprint, and very very steep. We must be climbing “thousands of stairs” up and down the hillsides. The weather is amazing. Apparently pouring rain until the day we arrived, today the sun is streaming down and it’s hot hot. Wonderful!

From our view on the hillside, we look down to the sea – azure and glorious. The sea, the sun, the flowers, the jungle growth of the greenery, and the olive groves and vineyards -all combine to create a fantasy view. It is a movie setting…incredible in every way.

A sanctuary is situated on the high ground of every village. From the sanctuary above Riomaggiore can be seen the “panorama of the islands of Elba, Corsica, Palmaria and Tine as well as the entire coast from the Cinque Terre to Punta Mesco.”

Look at that beautiful backdrop…sheer heaven (really!)

Although it is Monday, many people are hiking the trails – Americans, French, German, all sorts of nationalities. Overheard on one of the steeper and rockier slopes, an English woman remarks to her companions “I’m just looking for a little flat place.” And she is wearing heels! The Cinque Terra is very beautiful, but physical ability is pretty much mandated to hike these challenging, narrow trails.

We reach Manarola, and Mario pulls us into a tiny villa where an old Italian woman is making homemade wine. She pours out a glassful, and we pass it around, each taking a sip. Mario buys a bottle to take with us on a picnic. Walking on to Corniglia, we have a delicious lunch, then it’s back to the hotel for a rest.

Vernazza
Up at the crack of dawn…and out on the trail by 9AM. A healthy breakfast of muesli is satisfying, but the coffee is, to put it as nicely as possible, strong enough to take the enamel off your teeth! I must be ordering the wrong kind… but, no, this IS Italian coffee!

We walk for three and a half hours, climbing ever higher and higher. Thousands (possibly millions!) of steps up, thousands down. Ledges two inches wide; green prolific vegetation all around. We walk past olive groves, vineyards, vegetable gardens growing on the terraced hillsides, stone tanks providing water. Hills are covered with vines growing wild. Narrow, narrow paths, so slight, you can tumble down the mountain in a New York minute. The hike is challenging and invigorating, and clears the mind of all niggling worries.

We come to Vernazza, and stop to eat lunch at the Blue Marlin. The bruschetta – toasted bread with tomatoes and anchovies, lightly drizzled with olive oil – is absolutely yummy. I can’t believe how much I enjoy the anchovies here…delish. A joyful day is embodied in an impromptu waltz around the cafe by Jean and Tad…good food and drink, laughter and song…a very Italian moment.

We leave the Blue Marlin and walk around the town. Turning from the path, I see a small piazza almost deserted in a sunny street. As I sit there alone, face turned toward the sun, a woman on a terrace waters her plants, while another hangs clothes on the ever-present clothesline. Flowers, flowers everywhere. The biggest geraniums, hydrangeas of all colors, nasturtiums bright orange, big white daisies in pots, yellow gorse, wild cyclamen, bougainvillea, vetch! In the town square, we hear church bells chiming from a beautiful green and white marble Catholic church with a rose circular window.

We hike back to the hotel, clean up, pack for the next morning’s move, and leave for dinner at an outdoor café. The tables are set out in the street, dinner is eaten under the silver Italian moon. First is antipasto: broiled octopus, squid, shrimp, tiny little clams, anchovies and swordfish. The entree includes prawns & shrimp, broiled. When they are set on the table, they are as big as lobsters, and taste great. And we finish with wine and cappuccino.

Vittorio’s Villa
Up at 7AM for breakfast, and ready to walk at nine. This is to be our longest hike, and it could be difficult.

We walk up – up – up – climbing up stairs and steps and over boulders, about 9000 feet according to Mario, to a ruined monastery sitting on top of the mountain. Lorenzo, Mario’s son who has acccompanied us so far, is gathering cherries from the wild cherry trees. The view from here is – well, I can’t keep from using the word “spectacular’. Below is the misty deep blue sea, and the mountainside is covered in flowers.

From here, we hike to an isolated primitive villa belonging to Vittorio, a friend of Mario’s. An old man who lives alone (except for weekly visits from his wife), he is an artist whose canvas is his marvelous garden. Mario met him on one of his previous hikes, and Vittorio offered him homemade cheese and wine, salami, beans, and cherries for his picnics. It’s magical. We sit outdoors at two trestle tables.

Mario slices the tomatoes and bread he has brought, arranging them on platters with fresh basil from the garden; nasturtiums decorate our plates. Vittorio brings out salami and his wonderful homemade cheese. We sit in the sun and drink wine at his villa on the side of a mountain in the Cinque Terra. All tastes are intensified. The foccaccio bread tastes like no other bread, whether filled with either olives or onion, or plain. The red rich tomatoes embody the flavor of Italy.

Behind the villa is the cherry orchard, and a field of yellow daisies which seems to go on forever. Vittorio allows us to fill our caps with cherries from the orchard; they are only the best cherries I’ve ever eaten. I feel as if I’m living in a storybook….

The field of daisies behind the cherry orchard

Then we say goodbye to Vittorio and his two black cats and one black dog, and walk down the other side of the mountain through forests of trees and ferns, wild sweet peas, mayflower bushes brimming with sweet-smelling white blossoms, daisies, dandelions everywhere.

The mountainside is covered with fragrant yellow gorse. Soon, red brick walls begin to appear, covered – dripping – with flowers of all kinds, again bougainvillea, geraniums in colors I haven’t seen back home, a wall choked with orange nasturtiums, terra cotta pots of white daisies, roses everywhere, hedges of fragrant white jasmine, hollyhocks.

We begin to sing on the trail, yodelling “The Happy Wanderer” at the top of our lungs. Mario then sings every Italian song he can think of; he is so delightful. Lene and I drift along to the top of a hill and are suddenly showered with a handful of yellow gorse blooms which Mario has thrown over our heads. Then we share a big kiss on the cheek.

Reaching town, we stop for a quick gelato, then catch a train and are soon back at our hotel. Molto bene!

Lene and I have a balconied room on the third floor overlooking the Meditteranean. The shuttered doors are open wide as I’m writing this at 10PM at night, and I hear the plash of the waves against the sand, and see glimmers of white boats anchored in the bay. Just outside our window, to break the mood, we also hear an Italian woman next door yelling into the phone at her mother…wish I spoke Italian, I’d love to know what that was all about!

Our room is nice, lacking only in towels. A knock on the door is the maid, who (naturally) speaks no English. “We need more towels,” I try to tell her, picking up something I think is a towel and saying”vorrei dua.” Responding in Italian, we are both nodding and shaking our heads like yoyos. Then off she goes, and I leave the door open on the off chance she’ll be back. Meanwhile, I disappear into the bedroom.

The maid returns and knocks at the door. Lene answers. The maid offers her three bath rugs and more voluble Italian. Now we have four bath rugs and one towel.

Sestri Levanti, the Bay of Silence and the Bay of Fables
Up and out at 9AM feeling fresh as a daisy, albeit slightly damp. We have another challenging hike today, 6,000 feet – up, and up again, steps and more steps. According to Mario, “This is an easy walk.” Uh huh. We hike for three hours – through deep green ferny woods forever climbing the mountain -the path initially difficult as it is studded with boulders, but soon, less so. Pine needles begin to carpet the trail. The air is evergreen-scented, clean and fresh. We take many photographs at every possible stopping point: overlooking the ocean, in the ferns, against brick and stone walls, rising, descending… The sun is shining, the birds singing madly, which is the only sound, as this is a quiet walk – no other people are on the trail, whereas before, we’ve had lots of company.

The beautiful bay

We reach Sestri Levanti around noon and reconvene at the Hotel Miramare. Lene and I have a great room – small and comfortable – with a balcony overlooking the sea. We converge for lunch out on the terrace, where the tables are laid with deep salmon-colored tablecloths. The terrace overlooks the Meditteranean; small white boats are floating on the Bay of Silence. Across from us lies the Bay of Fables {entrancing names!)

After lunch, some of us ramble up to see an eleventh century church and an old villa that’s been converted to a hotel – very, very beautiful. The hotel is a little eerie – no one is here, and it is quiet as a tomb. We walk up more and more steps, finally entering the grounds through an archway into a silent, tranquil avenue. Lined with stone walls starred with daisies, and immense terra cotta pots overflowing with geraniums, the avenue takes us into another world. So peaceful, so quiet.

The pathway to an absolutely exquisite hotel

We wander around, looking for and finding the old stone monastery, and after a brief respite, return to our hotel. Sitting on the balcony of our room, I sip a ginger ale while Lene washes her hair. Afterwards, we sit outside in the sun, then somehow discover that the balcony doors locked behind us (don’t know why, don’t know how.) We peer over the rail, no-one. Bang on the wall, no-one. Finally, somehow and after much hoo-ha, we manage to unlock the door and get back into our room…then we quickly shower and go shopping… I buy a pristine white sweater and Lene buys two.

We return to the hotel in time for a drink on the terrace with Diane and Barb – then into dinner and to bed. What a day…what a splendid, splendid day.

Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino
From Sestri Levanti, we drive to Santa Margherita Ligure. According to our guide book, this is “a temple of the sun where the sea, sky and pastel colored houses are so intensely luminous as to instill optimism and joy of life in its inhabitants …a mythological place where eternally young beings conduct a happy existence in adoration of Beauty. Of Roman origin, it was conquered by the Fieschi, then Genoa, and suffered many raids by Saracen pirates…” I can’t add to that….

Hiking down into Portofino

At the Colonial Hotel in Santa Margherita, we drop our luggage and immediately begin one of our loveliest hikes, to Portofino.

The hike from Santa Margherita is through some of the most enchanting landscapes in the world. Endless sloping fields of fern stretch to meet woods of chestnut, pine, and wild cherry trees, and all sorts of flowers perfume the air and line our trail – this is our pathway. General impressions are of blazing color: bright yellow gorse everywhere and villas dotting the terraced hillsides in all warm beautiful Italian tints. We have a slight shock when I inadvertently step on the tail end of a snake – much screaming and dashing about ensued (and that was just the snake!)

And so to Portofino, lit by the gold of the Italian sunlight.

Lene on the road to Portofino

I love Portofino. Our first view, from high atop a hill: narrow walled paths, starred with daisies. A painted ship floats below upon a painted ocean. The Hotel Splendido – all shining white -clings to the side of the hill fronting a fairy tale bay of crystal aqua. We are back in the movie! The tiny town of Portofino floats within this panorama, the bay dotted with white boats and yachts.

We eat grilled shrimp outside in one of the myriad cafes dotting the square. The colors! The flowers! The people!

Like a small blue sapphire within an emerald green cup, Portofino is the quintessential cosmopolitan seaside Italian Riviera town. Lene and I shop and walk and shop and walk and look up at the sun and are happy…and why not? We are in one of the most beautiful villages in the world, in glorious weather, among friends and feeling great! We end our day with a drink in the square, and catch the 5 o’clock ferry back to Santa Margherita and the Colonial Hotel.

A quick shower before supper – not the best supper, but who cares at this point. Afterwards, several of us cross the grassy stretch behind the hotel in the silvery moonlight. The night sky is navy blue velvet hung with a silver moon and twinkling stars, which are reflected in the swimming pool carved from lava rock. Across the bay, the lights of some other tiny town twinkle in the hills. Strolling through streets rife with atmosphere and mystery to wander around downtown… indeed a fairytale…

San Fruttuoso and Comiglio
On our walk by 9AM. This is to be another challenging hike, and one of the most spectacularly beautiful. Only three of us choose to go on this hike with Mario (ah, Mario!): Diane, Lene and I.

Mario points the way – ah Mario!

We cross log bridges into a primeval forest, the trees resting at 90 degree angles beside the trail. Paths are as wide as a footfall. Ivy covers the chestnuts, pines, and oaks. As we edge across narrow edges, lichen and moss and yellow and white daisies cover boulders blocking our paths – boulders big as cliffs. At this point, we’ve come approximately five miles (all up) from Santa Margherita.

The trails are strewn with pine needles in some places, rocky and rough in others. The destination is San Fruttuoso, the tiniest port on the edge of the world. It’s located in a tiny cove, once frequented by pirates and bandits, and houses a single small hotel, two villas and a monastery. Perched on the edge of the sea like a miniature jewel, it is completely enclosed by mountains and water; we can only reach it by hiking or by boat.

What a climb: two hours up, over massive boulders blocking the trail, up steps cut into the mountain, up vine-trailed pathways, over rock and stones, ever up to the top of the world! Barely pausing for a sip of water, up, straight up we hike. The air is scented with pine and flowers, crystal clear and intensely fresh. Pines, oaks and chestnuts surround us.

Then down, ever down – down – to San Fruttuoso, where the tiny cove now welcomes tourists in place of pirates.  The water is bluer than blue, deeper than emerald, azure as sapphires – clear as the sound of a bell. The little hotel where we have lunch is a marvelous picture. Seated on a covered terrace overlooking the bathers below on the small beach, a variety of seafood, olives, bread, and prosciutto e melone is served – every wonderful taste intensified by atmosphere, water and scent. We are high, high up overlooking the Meditteranean; small white boats float on the waves below.

After this splendid lunch, we catch the ferry back to Comiglio, where we are surrounded by a splendid view of the mountains. Rambling through the town to the train station, in three minutes, are back in Santa Margherita. Lene and I change clothes, find the bar, order vodka tonics, and sit on the hotel’s veranda, pretending we are rich, worldly jet setters.

We have a most glorious view: from the veranda of the hotel, we look onto a landscaped lawn and garden, leading to a natural pool and rocky terrace.

The crystal emerald clear water- the immense terra cotta pots of red geraniums – the white sailboats floating on the Meditteranean – the jewel-green mountains surrounding us – the manicured gardens….words fail to describe it all.

We walk down to the natural pool formed by lava rocks and sit dipping our toes into the Meditteranean Sea. All around us are suntanned gods and goddesses – as well as a few not so goddess-like! This has been another really perfect day. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!

Then up to change for dinner and out to Nostromo’s, a tiny Italian trattoria Mario has found off the beaten path. Here, I buy a delightful painting from an itinerant artist who is showing his wares in the small restaurant. The painting is very simple, very Italian: a bicycle leaning against the wall of a villa. Lene buys a view of Portofino seen through a side street. After we eat, we walk back to our hotel, but not before standing on a street corner overlooking the sea and singing “Blue Moon” to the stars and sky at the top of our lungs.

Cinque Terra is so incredibly rich in beauty and history, no wonder it was beloved by painters and poets, writers and philosophers, actors and composers: Nietsche, Guy de Maupassant, Keats, Shelley, Byron (who drowned off the Ligurian coast), Wagner, D’Annunzio, Laurence Olivier, Nicola Abbagnano, sculptor Maragliano, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Dante and Petrarca … all have lived, loved and been happy here….because…
“…I saw the vessels glide
Over the ocean bright and wide…
And the wind that winged their flight
From the land came fresh and light,
And the scent of winged flowers,
And the coolness of the hours
Of dew, and sweet warmth left by day
Were scattered o’er the twinkling bay.” Shelley…”Lines written in the bay of Lerici”

New York Odyssey

The Mohonk Mountain House

The Mohonk Mountain House

The recent visit to the Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York in the Hudson Valley was perfect in every way. Lene and I drove directly to the hotel that looks a little like The Shining and which has enough hallways and corners to get you completely lost if you don’t have a compass! But the views from the rooms….the beautiful lake…the trails…the gardens…the blue skies and sunshine…the peace and beauty were absolutely wonderful. We hiked ourselves silly, and enjoyed most of the amenities the inn has to offer…and the food, absolutely yum-o. What a spectacular find!

Tuesday, Day 1: I met Lene at Newark, and we wended our way to Mohonk. We managed to get a little lost trying to find the front of this gigantic hotel, but finally make it after asking several people how to get out of the parking lot. Seriously.

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Our room looked directly out onto the lake and mountain trails beyond, and the views were incredible…enhanced even more by the marvelous weather. So after quickly unpacking, we took a quick hike around the grounds, soaking in the peace and beauty.We had booked dinner at 8, so had plenty of time to ramble.

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Wednesday, Day 2: We ordered breakfast in our room, then booted up and set out to hike around Mohonk Lake and up to the Sky Top, high atop the Shawangunk Mountains…just gorgeous.

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The beautiful lake at the base of the mountains

We climbed to the top of Sky Top and took in the breathtaking view, which went on forever.

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After which, we hiked down and walked over the grounds, taking in the colors of the flowers, and the wonderful fencing that was made of twisty tree bark and wood.

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The fences around Mohonk House were absolutely beautiful

This takes us about 3-4 hours. I kept thinking of “The Last of the Mohicans” and wondering how on earth Cora raced up those mountains in that long dress and flats! 

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Mysterious Mohonk Mountain House

We managed to get back in time for tea at 4PM! After which it was time for a massage, after which fresh grapes and lemongrass were served on the terrace – we lounge about in our robes sipping and nibbling, looking at the views…and then, it’s time for dinner!! Fresh salmon is the order of the day…drinks to begin with. And so ends the first perfect day at Mohonk. I have to say, acting rich is very nice!

Thursday, Day 3: Up we get, ordered breakfast, and since we had to be out by 11AM, we’re out on the grounds and rambling around in another hike up the mountain,

How great to be in the middle of all this natural beauty!

How great to be in the middle of all this natural beauty!

and into the rocky scramble which we thought was the Labrynth and Lemon Squeeze, but actually is not…still, it was a nice little climb over, under and through the (sometimes sharp-edged) boulders.

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I wish I could hike every trail on the 1200 acres!

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Then we were on the road to Manhattan.

The iconic skyline from the iconic ferry

The iconic skyline from the iconic ferry

We arrived at the ferry and it took a moment deciding on where we could park the car. More faffing about on that, but Lene finally figured it out! And dragging our luggage, we got on the ferry toot sweet and that was our first view of the Manhattan skyline.

The view of the New York skyline across the Hudson is embodied perfectly in “Let the River Run”, the Working Girl anthem by Carly Simon: “Silver cities rise….the morning light, the streets that meet them…and sirens call them on with a song….” Loved every second of this iconic ferry ride.

Incredibly dramatic, wonderful. The sky was a pale, cloudy blue…the water fairly calm. We took lots of photographs as we approached…another carpe diem moment.

On landing, we flagged down a taxi…as the taxi took off, he almost wiped out a bicyclist – not hard to do, everyone bicycles and drives like crazy here. And the horns – they are the soundtrack of New York – the taxis hooting, the ambulances and sirens screaming – all the time….

So, off we went to W – our home away from home, in Union Square. What a beautiful hotel – very modern and the lobby was pristine and elegant.

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The W Hotel room in Union Square

Again, our room had magnificent views – looking directly across New York to the new World Trade Center.  Lene had brought champagne, so we had a glass and toasted to the start of another perfect part of our trip.

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Union Square, home to the W Hotel

We ordered room service (one of my favorite things) and since we didn’t have enough time to really eat a full meal, I inhaled a burger – which was delicious!!! While wolfing our dinner, we were cleaning up preparatory for once again taking off in a taxi, flagged down by our wonderful doorman, to see ‘Phantom of the Opera.”  Lene’s son had managed to get us tickets, and the seats were the best.  I could get used to this!

New York

New York

Friday, Day 5: Friday morning was spent at the Museum at the new World Trade Center, all the exhibits moving and poignant.  We watched videos of the day, the stories of the victims and the terrorists, saw the artifacts saved from the old sites, photographs that told the story … an amazing experience.

The new World Trade Center

The new World Trade Center

Time marched on…and we left the Museum and took the subway (another first!)

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to Greenwich Village, which I have wanted to see all my life.

Down in Washington Square

Down in Washington Square

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To actually walk around Washington Square was so meaningful to me.

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Bleecker Street

The parks everywhere, the architecture, the people…it was everything I wanted to see.

The Greenwich Village Library

The G