Monday, July 25, 2022

Days 22 & 23

 On Day 22, we got up early, found a wonderful bakery (with delicious cinnamon buns), and hit the road early to drive back to Chipping Camden to pick up the bag I left behind. Fortunately, they had the bag and picking it up was really not too difficult considering that they might not have found the bag at all and/or we could have been forced to drive much further in reverse as on some days we drove much further than we did this last time. After picking up the bag, we drove to Blenheim Palace about forty minutes more driving for us.

Blenheim Palace was the childhood home of Winston Churchill. We saw the room in which he was born among many other rooms. The house is quite grand with numerous sitting rooms and a library/ballroom complete with organ. This is one house where the title “Palace” is quite appropriate. The grounds were also quite grand with huge lawns, parterres, and a delightful rose garden where we sat and enjoyed the ambiance for a bit before returning to our hotel. At the hotel, Russell graciously offered to let me explore the local bookstores whilst he took the afternoon off. I had loads of fun visiting the very large branch of Waterstone’s plus Blackwell’s and a used bookstore not far from our hotel. Mostly I controlled myself but I must confess that I did end up with a bag full of titles. While I was away, Russell enjoyed afternoon tea in the room. For dinner we decided to keep it simple and went to a local Indian place and the tandoori platter was quite tasty.

Today has been a bit of a difficult day as neither of us had a great sleep and we are both eager to return home after what has been basically non-stop three weeks of sightseeing. We had breakfast at the same bakery as the day before and then went for a bit of a walk to the Oxford Botanical Garden. We arrived there right before opening time and as there was some sort of special event happening in the garden today there were quite a number of people waiting for the garden to open. Our visit to the garden started slowly with several beds laid out according to plant families which is an interesting approach but perhaps not the most visitor-friendly choice. At any rate, the garden slowly started to reveal itself and the highlight for the both of us were the glass houses. There were several of them, not large but immaculately kept with numerous plants in bloom. Our time there was positively magical.

Later, we walked the streets, found a tobacconist and hat shop where I found a couple of hats but we were both “in a mood” and not really enjoying all the people around us. So, after a brief discussion we decided to change gears — we went back to the hotel, got in the car and drove to Waterperry Gardens, a twenty minute drive from Oxford. At the garden we found a lovely tearoom (which was more like a cafeteria) and fortified ourselves with a lunch that hit the spot and greatly improved our mood. The garden itself was interesting with some lovely long borders, gorgeous dahlias, and an extensive shop. Back at the hotel, we smuggled pizza into our room and ate in bed watching tv. As I said, we are ready to go home.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Days 20 & 21

 We had a nice peaceful day in Chipping Camden. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove a brief distance to Hidcote. We were there right at opening time which was a good thing too since it was rather busy when we left. The garden was amazing. It’s a National Trust property and probably one of their premier ones too judging from how well the garden was kept. There was a summer house that I particularly enjoyed. I also enjoyed the perennial beds and the vistas of the surrounding land. 

In the afternoon, Russell visited the hotel’s spa for a massage whilst I hit the local bookstore. Dinner was at a local pub called Eight Bells and it was to bed early as today was a driving day. After another breakfast at the hotel we drove to another National Trust property, Stowe. It was only a little over an hour’s drive away but all of it was on backroads. Russell has done a great job driving and once again he got us to our destination safely.

Stowe was a nice surprise. I didn’t expect much as it is primarily a landscape park and not a flower garden but what a landscape park! Long views across grass and ponds toward numerous classical temples and statuary. The pond featured loads of ducks and swans (including lots of baby birds). Russell and I sat together on a bench and observed all the bird life for a few moments and it was very special.

Back on the road as we headed toward our final destination of Oxford is was far more stressful. Loads of traffic, round-abouts, etc. We arrived at the hotel before our room was ready and so we walked around Oxford and tried to get our bearings. It was very crowded as the weather today is fine and school’s out. At any rate, when we arrived back at the hotel our room was still not available so it was cappuccino in the hotel’s restaurant for us. Eventually we were shown to our room which is modern, air conditioned and in good repair — a relief for me as I had some doubts about this place. Unfortunately while bringing our bags in to the hotel we discovered that my back pack was left behind in Chipping Camden. I’ve phoned the hotel and they are looking for the bag and if they find it we plan to back-track tomorrow (it’s only 42 miles away — the advantages of not traveling very far on any given day) to pick it up.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Day 19

 Today we drove from Bath to Chipping Camden (in the Cotswolds). We made two stops along the way. The first was a place called Avebury. It is about fifteen to twenty miles east of Bath and it is a World Heritage Site. It features a very large stone circle a la Stonehenge. Avebury is nicer than Stonehenge in a number of ways — fewer people, larger circle of stones, you can still get “up close and personal” with the stones themselves whereas at Stonehenge they have cordoned off the circle. Also, at Avebury a village has developed in and amongst the stones so that’s kind of cool because it adds a whole different dimension to the history of the site. In addition to the stone circle you can visit (and we did) a lovely manor house and garden. The manor house was featured on a television program where they featured modern artisans building (or in this case re-building) using the old methods of construction. The result is an interesting mish-mash of old and new — period rooms from the various time periods during the history of the house but all recently constructed just using old methods. I enjoyed the visit a lot and the grounds were lovely as well.

Not really a great pic of some of the stones in the circle

Avebury manor

Our second stop of the day was Chedworth Roman Villa. This stop featured obviously the remains of a Roman villa. They’ve made the most of what remains but having said that I ought to also let you know not too much remains. A bunch of walls delineating different room but leaving much to the imagination. More evocative were the mosaic floors they uncovered and also some of the objects that were unearthed. It’s a lovely sight positioned as it is amongst rolling hills, fields and patches of woodland and there was even a real, live, genuine pheasant wandering around. So, it was definitely worth the visit.

We arrived in Chipping Camden in the mid-afternoon and located our hotel room which features—drum roll please — air conditioning (not that we really need it now as the temperature today was only in the seventies). The room (and the hotel) are both very nice (thankfully) and the town is super cute —all of it is constructed out of the local stone in a similar architectural style (what style is that? Let’s just call it English vernacular and leave it at that).

Dinner was at the hotel and featured sticky toffee pudding for desert, a favorite of mine. All in all, a most enjoyable day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Days17 & 18

 Yesterday we drove to Bath and today we walked around the town. Our hotel here is a joy — nice big room, recently redecorated complete with chandelier, three big windows looking out onto the street, and a ceiling plastered with decoration. Getting here was a little bit frustrating as we arrived at one garden before it opened (we were able to let ourselves in but felt a little guilty doing so though the staff were good natured about it). The garden itself (Tintinhull) was smallish but nicely kept and decently designed. The second garden that we stopped at before arriving in Bath was called Ilford Manor and turned out to be closed on Tuesdays (this I think was a recent change in their schedule because I did check every garden before we left to make sure that they would be open on the day that we were due to visit though it’s possible that I missed this one). Thankfully we had not gone too far out of our way to visit it but it was a little disappointing (especially since there was in fact people there to tell us that the garden was closed and there was a group of people who were obviously getting a special tour that we were decidedly not invited to join, but I digress)

Our hotel in Bath

Coming into Bath was a bit of a shock too as there was a lot of traffic and we (perhaps I should say I) was not used to crowds after our delightful country idyll. At any rate, the hotel, as I said, did not disappoint. Indeed, they were able to show us to our room despite our early arrival. So, we rested for a bit before heading out to grab a bite to eat. I then made my way to an interesting (though small and HOT) bookstore while Russell went back to the hotel to cool off. It was certainly a hot day but nothing unbearable even if the country set a new all-time record high temperature. Dinner was at the hotel’s restaurant and proved to be an unexpected culinary experience. Quite interesting food with complex flavors even if it was a bit fancy for my taste.

Russell’s desert last night

Our room
Our bath

Sleeping last night proved a bit of a challenge for both of us as the room was quite warm and stuffy even though we had the windows open. We had our morning coffee in the hotel’s delightful back garden before heading out to explore the city of Bath. It is quite a lovely city with lots of interesting architecture and busy shopping streets. The weather is quite a good deal cooler today which is a relief. The Botanical Garden was small and somewhat neglected though it contained many specimen trees that were interesting. The town was full of graduating students both yesterday and today so that made for a festive atmosphere. We bought a take-away lunch and ate it in the hotel’s garden where we proceeded to spend a good portion of the afternoon reading and enjoying the relaxed ambiance. Tonight we will be eating in town and tomorrow we shove off for the Cotswolds. Not much more of our trip left with only two more stops before we return the car and wait for our flight to leave at an airport hotel. How time flies! Seems like just yesterday we were waiting at the airport in Philadelphia for our flight to Heathrow.

The Royal Crescent 
Poultney Bridge
Your intrepid reporter
Street scene, Bath

Monday, July 18, 2022

Day 15 & 16

 We’ve spent the last couple of days visiting sights in Cornwall and Devon. First up was the Eden Project. This was something of a disappointment for me as I had thought it might be a place that would appeal to Russell but we were both underwhelmed. I know it’s hard to say that when you are talking about something that is on as large a scale as this place was. What the developers did was transform an old quarry into a botanical wonderland featuring two different biodomes (one tropical rainforest the other Mediterranean). The stated goal is to help people to comprehend the interconnectivity of all life. I’m not entirely convinced that it accomplishes this but I think it’s a fine place to bring children to learn about plants and ecosystems. As for me, I found it to be way too commercial especially for “a educational charity” as it supposedly is. I mean hang-gliding? Really?! What does that have to do with learning about the interconnection of all life forms? If I had to describe the place I would say botanical garden meets amusement park.

After the Eden Project we visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan. This was another commercial botanical garden so it included the requisite gift shop and eatery. The gardens themself were well-kept but not particularly spectacular. There was a large kitchen garden as well as perennial beds and lots of tree ferns. There was also a view of the distant Cornish coast. It was definitely worth the visit but it was rather a long drive from our hotel so by the time we get back to the hotel we were tired. We decided to revive ourselves with afternoon tea — scones with clotted cream and jam. Delicious.

Today we drove again a bit of a ways to visit a couple of sights (both Russell and I felt that it might have been better to have had a hotel closer to that which we wanted to see) but being here in the countryside had its advantages as well (namely peace and quiet). Our first sight was a lovely home called Lanhydrock. This place was very impressive in my opinion. The house is a delight and more importantly is set up so that you can do three different self-guided tours of it. If you do all three tours as we did you end up seeing quite a lot of the house and the way that they have the rooms set up makes it feel like a still working country house. The gardens were not particularly remarkable but we didn’t really explore the “park” as it was so hot (a heat emergency is on for today). 

After Lanhydrock, we visited another house and garden called Pencarrow House. We actually didn’t tour the house because the only way you could see it was with an organized tour and neither of us was feeling up to that so instead we purchased garden-only tickets and spent the next hour exploring the grounds. Again, this garden had its moments — a nice little waterway surrounded by astilbe and gunnera (huge leaves) and some pretty views — but wasn’t really tremendously well maintained or even very floriferous (fancy way of saying “not a lot of flowers”). Still, I’m glad we visited as the two of us enjoyed a nice sit together on a shaded bench looking at the Georgian house and listening to the tinkling fountain and a particularly squawky peacock! A memory I shan’t soon forget.

Back at the hotel it was a late afternoon in front of the fan, dinner in the dining room, and packing as we head out tomorrow for Bath.