The Hendersons A cottage named Tullet in the Cotswolds
England and Guernsey - 2001
Saturday, June 23 - Berkhamsted - Chalford
Last night wasn't that restful for either of us. We wake early because of the noise, get up, do our breakfast, shower and pull out by 8 a.m. The lock is full and open, so we cruise through with little effort.
We stow our belongings in a shed at the boatyard and take the bus to High Wyckham to pick up the car. We had specifically requested a Ford Mondeo and by no means a Vauxhall, which we had last year and Tom hated. Since the only car in the yard besides a Vauxhall is a Nissan Primera, we opt for the Nissan. It is sporty and comfortable, so we are well off.
The total journey to get the car is four hours. The distance is 30 miles round trip. Such is travel in England.
We pick up the car and lunch at a pub across the canal from the boatyard. The sun is bright, the service is slow.
We head toward our next destination, Westley Farm, near Stroud in the Cotswolds. We know by now that you must avoid Oxford at all cost, so we plan our route to swing wide of Oxford.
On the way we decide to take a 'B' road and go through the charming, but crowded, village of Bibury. No idea of what the attraction is, but we want to go back when it isn't the weekend.
We stop at the TI in Cirencester and get a guidebook to the Cotswolds, then stop at the ‘cash point’ and head toward Westley Farm, closest to Chalford. We find the farm without much trouble. At one time it must have been on the main road to Banbury. Today it is isolated on a hill overlooking a valley. The view is wonderful. How many shades of green has God made? Across the valley we see the village of Chalford, houses stacked on the hill. I read that this area was home to William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement. It also was a textile area. You can see its manufacturing roots in the stolid buildings.
Our ‘cottage’ – named Tullet – has a sort of gentile shabbiness in the lounge – a nice fireplace, two wing chairs and a sofa. The kitchen is well equipped – but no microwave or dishwasher. It isn’t what is called in England a ‘fitted kitchen’ – that is the cupboards and appliances aren’t built in. Rather, they have been acquired separately over the years, so there isn’t much countertop space at all, and the concept of a work triangle is completely non-existent. Upstairs there are two bedrooms – one looks out on the little courtyard between the cottage and the main house. We have laundry facilities and a place to lock Tucats (although we end up leaving him in the ‘boot’ of the car).
We drive to Stroud to buy groceries. It is a long downhill to Chalford – Stroud is beyond. We may be able to ride Tucats to Stroud, but we’d never get him back.
On the way back I spy a sign that proclaims a ‘cyber café’ in Chalford. We turn to the ‘High Street.” It is a charming village, built on hills. The streets, however, are very narrow. The crowds are rather dense. Turns out this is an artists’ studio weekend as well as a garden tour weekend. The various artists’ studios in the valley – and there are a lot of them – have ‘open studios’ where you can go in and view their works. We have stumbled on a major artistic event. Our host, Julian, brings us a guidebook for the event. We find some artists we’d like to view tomorrow, before the bike ride we didn’t get today.
So, it is Saturday night in the Cotswolds. If we ever get to live in England, this is the area I would chose. I love the gentleness of it. It has a timeless charm that is relaxing and comfortable.
Sunday, June 24 - Chalford and Bath
The day is once again clear and promises summer as only can be had in places like England and the Northwest – pleasantly warm with enough breeze to keep us comfortable.
Since we ran out of 20 p pieces yesterday when we were doing our laundry, we didn’t get it fully dry. We head to Stroud to get vinegar and parmesan cheese and finish the laundry. Stroud isn’t all that nice – it has the look of a mill town and only a few buildings are interesting.
On the way back we stop at Chalford to look at some of the artists’ studios. We’ve decided that we are going to go through three of them.
The first is that of Mary Eames, located in an old mill. We really like her work – water colors with plenty of color, usually local scenes, some florals or still lives. She gives painting lessons. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn some rudimentary painting?
Up the towpath to our second stop – the studio of Bill Rickinson and Suzanna Birley. Their home is on the canal. Bill has built his studio in the back yard. He does pottery, especially raku. Tom tried raku years ago, so has knowledge of the process. Bill is eager to explain his art. Suzanne does wonderful sculptures of heads, rich watercolors and some great wildlife sculptures. I wish shipping home weren’t so problematic, we’d buy some of their pieces. We spend a half hour or more talking and viewing. Finally we stop at Roger Pitcher’s studio. His work is very abstract. We aren’t able to appreciate it – we just don’t understand it.
Next door is the village store (one room the size of my den), post office and a tea room. They have a computer with internet connection (this is the cyber café we saw advertised earlier). For ₤5 an hour you can get internet access. For the first time in a week, we check e-mail. Not much going on, which is good news.
After lunch we head to Bath – we will get our ride today. It takes a while to find the starting point, in Victoria Park – there is a lot of construction in Bath – eventually we find the start, assemble Tucats and head to the Bath-Bristol Rail Trail. Before we reach the trail a plastic bag is snagged in our chain and brings us to an abrupt and unceremonious halt. Tom spends 15 minutes or more pulling debris out of the chain. What a mess! Lesson: Take needle nose pliers with you on rides. We probably wouldn’t have been able to continue if we hadn’t had them with us.
The ride is lovely, although we cut it short – we got a late start and had delays. We wonder at how few riders wear helmets. We don’t see any tandems. The path is popular, but I suspect that recreational biking is new here.
After we return to Westley Farm we plan our remaining time here. We want to go to Portmeirion in Wales, as well as some in-depth exploring of the Cotswolds. We’ve a couple of rides we want to do, too. This is going to be tight!
Monday, June 25 - Chalford - Bibury
Another beautiful day. We wake early, have breakfast, shower and head out by 8:00 a.m.
Our first stop is Painswick. We stop there because of the post office. We’ve had our eyes on a Hazle ceramic of the post office in this town – I think it is the oldest post office in England.
The way to Painswick is along very narrow unclassified roads. We make a few false turns, but eventually reach our destination. This is a beautiful town, clinging to the hillside. We stop at the post office and chat with the shopkeeper. Like so many people here, she is anxious to give us her recommendations for sights to visits. One is Owlpen Manor near Uley.
We buy a couple of poems on parchment at a local shop, then head toward the starting point of our driving tour of the Cotswolds, Winchcombe.
It takes a bit of doing, but we arrive at Winchcombe an hour later. We have morning tea in a garden behind the tea shop. Winchcombe is beautiful. As is frequently the case, there is someone in the church to tell visitors about the history of the church. There is a very old tapestry in the church said to have been partly done by Katherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII. Part of the tapestry was missing until sometime in the 20th century when they sent it to London for refurbishment. As luck would have it, a portion of the missing piece showed up at the same time in the same place, so the people doing the refurbishment were able to put the two together.
There is a beautiful hand carved screen in the church. Every 12” or so is a rosette, except one has been carved into the Winchcombe Imp. The church also has wonderful gargoyles, said to represent abbots from the long since dissolved abbey.
We head out toward Chipping Camden. Many of the roads are unclassified – translate – ‘narrow.’ We decide we must have a big yellow “Y” for Yank on the front of our car – the locals give us no ground when it comes to sharing the road – they’ll take their half from the middle, thank you.
There are three or four towns with the word ‘Chipping’ in their name – we learn that Chipping is ‘Market.’ True to the name, Chipping Camden has a wonderful market place in the center of town. The roof structure is very interesting.
It is strawberry season in England. At Hidcote Manor we see signs for strawberries for sale. We see the first evidence of the recent foot and mouth disease – the farm is sign posted cautioning people, but not restricting access. There are disinfectant pads that are placed on the driveways for the cars to roll over.
Once again we’ve planned a too-ambitious schedule – I want to go past Compton Wynyates, which used to be open to the public. We know it is private now, but I’d like to see it from the road. We travel along more unclassified roads and eventually reach our destination – you can’t see much from the road and it is clear the owners, whoever they are, don’t want any visitors. I always loved this home – it is beautiful and actually homey. I understand why the owners want privacy and yet, it is too bad that others can’t share this beautiful place.
We pass Compton Wynyates and head toward Bibury which William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement) proclaimed the most beautiful village in England. It is beautiful with wonderful cottages that have climbing roses surrounding the front doors. The church, St. Mary’s, has tree roses leading down the path to the entrance. The English and their gardens! What a combination!
I’ve read in the guidebooks that Ralph Vaughn Williams, the great 20th C English composer was born in Down Ampney, close by. Hoping to find his birthplace, we go a bit out of our way to this village. What a disappointment! Other than the sign proclaiming the village to be his birthplace, we find nothing else of note. As a matter of fact, this village has little to commend it. That is most unusual in this area of charming and tidy villages.
We head toward Westley Farm, stopping on the way for groceries in Cirencester. While the ‘superstores’ may be useful, I’ve concluded that I don’t really like them for produce and baked goods. The produce is mostly prepackaged so you buy the quantity of the package, even though that is too much for two people. The baked goods are mass produced and mediocre. I hope we can find a real greengrocer somewhere, as well as a decent bakery.
Tomorrow we are going to take a bike ride – hopefully we’ll get out early. I had thought so much time in a relatively small area would be ample for us to really explore the Cotswolds, but I’m wrong – we’ve got a lot to see yet. Also, we underestimated the time it takes to get around because of the roads.
Tuesday, June 26 - Chalford - Marlborough - Ogborne St. George
Once again the day dawns bright and clean, though a bit breezy. After breakfast we head to the ‘Cyber Café’ in the Post Office at Chalford to get our e-mail. We stop at Mary Eames studio, having decided we’d like to buy one of her watercolors, but she’s not there.
We drive to Cirencester to poke about the town a bit. It’s a nice town. It is amazing the wealth the wool trade brought to this area. There is a wool market and a handsome parish church.
We stop at the TI with two questions – what government agency handles immigration (question met with looks of surprise) and are there any memorials to Ralph Vaughn Williams. Turns out a museum is due to open August 19 in Down Ampney, but we’ll be home by then.
We head to Marlborough where our bike ride begins. We’ve been to this town before, when we stayed in Swindon in 1995. It is a pretty town, with a well -preserved and active High Street. Parking is problematic, but we manage. We decide to have a light lunch before our ride and stop at a tea room. Tom has a hot sausage sandwich and I have a Stilton and pear sandwich. Sounds like a strange combination, but it is wonderful and would be even more so on a baguette with some walnuts.
We find long term parking nearby and assemble Tucats. The day is warm, still a bit breezy. This is supposed to be a grade 2 ride, 26 miles, only a few hills according to the guidebook.
We have one false start, failing to get the right road out of town. We discover our error and backtrack to the starting point.
Quickly we discover that we should have done some hill training. Before we are two miles into our ride, we are walking Tucats! Another lesson (this holiday is full of lessons!) – hill train before the holiday.
Since Tom can’t easily read the map through the map pouch on the handle bar bag, I keep the map in my pocket. We stop for a map check – OH NO! The map is gone! We backtrack about ½ mile and find the map in the road. Thank heavens. Lesson #2 – when on a bicycling holiday, keep your pocket zipped.
No more mishaps for the rest of the ride, but this is a very challenging ride. The guidebook author’s idea of grade 2 and our idea of grade 2 clearly aren’t in sync. The ride is particularly challenging between Ramsbury and Froxfield, which is described as ‘short but steep.’ Our view is that it is long and nearly straight uphill. We try powering the bike up the hill with both of us standing in the peddles. While this helps, we still end up walking the bike.
It doesn’t help that today is hot and muggy. We are both drenched. We find out later it is the hottest day of the year.
Our last leg is through the Savernake Forest. It is a straight three-mile shot from one end of the forest to the other. We’ve never seen such a tiny forest – it is only a few hundred yards wide and the trees are no bigger than 30 year old Douglas firs. And the road has speedbumps! But at least it is paved. Not at all like the forests Simpson owns, or the U.S. Forest Service holdings.
The horseflies are mean and hungry.
Once through the forest, we are on the ‘downhill’ leg back to Marlborough. It is a 1:10 grade hill. Thank heavens for drum brakes.
Back at the car park, we disassemble Tucats and use our remaining water as a shower. We are hot, sweaty and our thighs are tightening. However, we made it, albeit, part of the way on foot.
We head to Ogbourne St. George for dinner at the Crown Inn. We’ve had dinner here three times before. We have starters of avocado and bacon and order a steak and ale pie. Lesson #3 – eat light after a rigorous ride. While the food is good, we find we would have done better with lighter fare.
Wednesday, June 27 - Chalford - Porthmadog - Tremadog
Today is windy – quite a change from yesterday. We start early for Wales. Traffic in the Glouscester area is quite slow – we’ve managed to hit ‘rush hour.’ We wind our way through Hereford and eventually into Wales. Tom had been joking about how crooked the roads are in England. They are straight compared to those in the Snowdonia National Forest. They must have been laid out by the cattle. We are in Britain’s highest mountain range, but the mountains are pretty tame by our standards.
Wales is beautiful in a way quite different from England. It reminds us in many ways of Scotland – green hills, many sheep, much less densely populated than England. However, the homes and villages aren’t nearly as picturesque as those in England. We don’t see houses with roses climbing over them. The country is more desolate.
We stop at TI in Porthmadog. We have decided we’d like to book in a pub tonight, just to find out how it differs from B & B lodging. The TI lady suggests the Golden Fleece in nearby Tremadog. It is on the town square. There are high hills behind the town and the buildings are all of a slate colored stone. I imagine the stories of Welsh coal miners living in gray towns like this, although this is a very pleasant spot.
Our room with breakfast is ₤40. Wonder of wonders, it had a real shower – after five days on Mr. M with its confined shower and five days in Tullet with its bathtub cum shower, I’m ready for a real shower.
At first we think we’ll postpone going to Portmeirion until tomorrow and spend the afternoon in Porthmadog. We quickly exhaust the few attractions, so we head to Portmeirion.
What a strange place. It has a Disneyland like air. Odd buildings, beautiful gardens, confined spaces. We pick up a guidebook and walk around “The Village.” It is an eclectic collection. Some of the buildings look Greek, some Roman, others Italian. The developer/designer, Clough Williams-Ellis, must have had far reaching tastes.
We are most interested in “The Prisoner” memorabilia and are surprised to find bare mention of the series in the guidebook. At last we find the #6 shop and buy a couple of postcards and a book about the series. As it turns out, very little was filmed here, but “The Village” has become inseparable from “The Prisoner.”
Several of the buildings have been made into self-catering cottages. It would be fun, if a little strange, to rent one for a few days – but they are very expensive.
When Tom and Matt were at the Claremont Colleges, I often teased them that Claremont Village reminded me of “The Village.” Both are just a little too perfect.
We explore Portmeirion for a few hours, I buy a few pieces of pottery, then go back to Tremadog. We’ve made dinner reservations at The Golden Fleece.
Dinner starts with a deep fried Camembert with red current jelly. Then Welsh lamb chops with herbs, two kinds of potatoes and four kinds of fresh vegetables. We pass on dessert, but the raspberry meringue rouladen sounds good.
Tomorrow we plan a brief bike ride on Anglesey Island – it’s supposed to be quite flat – then will drive back to Chalford.
Thursday, June 28 - Tremadog - Beaumaris - Chalford
Today is overcast and drizzly. We have an English breakfast in the Inn. The waitress assures us that drizzle here doesn’t automatically mean drizzle on Anglesey.
The drive to Beaumaris is slow due to many construction sites along the way. Added are the narrow roads, which have stone walls on either side.
We pull into Beaumaris an hour later- a 30 mile drive. The ride we have chosen is listed as ‘easy.’ We’ll see. We assemble Tucats and head out. The first mile or so is fortuitous. Then we start climbing. Tom and I realize that hills are going to be a problem. Once again, we end up walking the bike up the hills. The flies – both horse and house – are terrific because we are going though farmland. The scenery is beautiful – we look across to Snowdonia shrouded in mist. The weather alternately clears and becomes cloudy, but it is warm enough that we don’t need our windbreakers.
All of Wales must be nothing but hills. Some of them on this ride are quite easy, none are truly terrible, but we aren’t up to the challenge. Eventually we make our way to the downside of the ride and are very grateful for the drum brake on the bike, for the descent is 17%. We peddle out to Black Point – we pass Penmon Priory (some of it is still in use) and a ruined dovecote (doves used to be raised for winter meat).
We get out to the point which looks to Puffin Island. While we are preparing to continue our ride back to Beaumaris, a couple on a tandem pulls into the area – the first tandem we’ve seen in the UK. They are from the Midlands area. Of course, Tucats is an object of curiosity – packable tandems not being common here yet.
We peddle back to Beaumaris. There is a great ruined castle overlooking the water there – it was once an important fortification. We have lunch at a tea room (pubs stop serving lunch at 2:00 we learn, because they close at 3:00).
Rather than take the same route back to Chalford, we decide to head into England though Shrewsbury, then to Worcester, then down the M5. Going through the Snowdonia area is beautiful. We are reminded of Scotland near Glen Coe – hilly, few trees, rocky, lots of streams. There are many hikers in this area and several youth hostels. It is a starkly beautiful region.
The roads on this route are much better than we experienced yesterday. Our return to Chalford takes 4 ½ hours, compared to the 6 hours driving time it took to get to Beaumaris.
We realize that we must train a lot more to be able to get some good riding in while we are here. Tomorrow we’ll go to Bath and do the Bath-Bristol rail trail. Even though it is flat, we need to build up both strength and endurance in order to make this the kind of holiday we had planned.
Friday, June 29 - Chalford - Bath
We wake to the sound of wind – at one point we think there is a small animal in our bedroom rummaging around the plastic laundry bag, but realize it is the wind that is making the noise.
We drive to Bath, find an Internet Café (aka- Internet Bordello), check our e-mail and stock portfolio. The news that Judge Penfield Jackson’s ruling on Microsoft has been overturned is good, although we had thought the stock market would have a bigger bounce.
Architecturally, Bath is an important and beautiful city. I love the Royal Crescent and the Circus. I am easily able to envision the privileged few during the Regency coming to Bath to ‘take the waters’, gamble and meet potential spouses. We tour one of the houses on the Royal Crescent that is owned by the National Trust and has been restored to its Georgian splendor. What an age it must have been, providing you were wealthy and comely.
After lunch we head for the costume museum. On the way we see a Merriam. We have been enjoying a British TV series about an antique dealer and slightly shady character named Lovejoy. He has been driving a borrowed Morris Minor convertible named Merriam and here is one that is still on the road. This one looks rather nicer than the one Lovejoy drives.
The costume museum is very interesting. They have costumes over 400 years old. I love some of the fabrics, but the excesses in crinolines and bustles is hard to imagine actually being worn.
Next we go to the Bath-Bristol rail trail. We realize that we must get some training in if this is going to be a successful holiday. The trail is well kept in some places, but in others the stinging nettle is right up to the pathway. Fortunately, it is pretty flat, but with enough hills to give us a bit of exercise. We ride to Bristol and see some of the sights that make large British cities truly depressing – litter, graffiti, teenagers who seem to be angry, public housing, huge and dreary. There is much to love about this country, but much to want to change. Lately we’ve been hearing a fair bit about race relations here – in some ways they are worse than in the U.S. I also find it disturbing that there is a very ingrained sense of entitlement here – the government owes me something (whatever for?).
After our ride, we head back to Chalford, stopping for groceries in Stroud.
Tomorrow we are going to Devon. On the way we plan a short bike ride. The weather is supposed to be better, although today wasn’t bad, even with a few sprinkles.