Friday, January 04, 2008

England: Part II

We resume our pictorial report on my trip to England in the small village of Lacock. We stopped here because a) it was on the way to the Cotswolds from Bath b) it was reportedly lovely and c) Harry Potter and A&E's Pride and Prejudice both filmed scenes there and, yes, I am just that much of a dorky tourist. Just so we're clear.

We went to the Abbey first. This was the first place we got a glimpse of the famed soft, rolling gentleness of the English countryside. Bath was bustling and elegant, but we were much more enamored with the soothing calmness we encountered walking about the Abbey grounds. The balmy breeze, sweet, damp air, fields of sheep and cows, hidden ponds, and sounds of crows cawing made it idyllic.

We found this bench tucked away near a picturesque little pond and just sat, drinking it in. I don't think I can describe how peaceful it was. Very serene and almost reverent. Good place for an abbey, I thought.

The Abbey itself was closed, but we explored the cloisters to our hearts' content. Being an American on her maiden trip abroad, I had never been in an abbey, cathedral or chapel before and did not know anything about the structure of any of them. But I can now tell you the cloisters are always my favorite part. The Viking took this picture because of its artistic qualities, but Harry Potter fans like myself may recognize it as the exact location on which Harry, concealed beneath his invisibility cloak, witnesses Snape threatening Quirrel about where his loyalties lie in The Philosopher's Stone. I was unbearably excited about standing where Alan Rickman had stood. Oh my, I am such a geek.

This is one of my favorite photos ever. I wanted to unpack a picnic right below that spot and lie in the grass, gazing up at the blue sky.

After tearing ourselves away from the Abbey, we wandered down to the village itself. There I am, looking rather schlumpy, but I'm standing where Colin Firth once sat on his horse looking achingly dashing in a scene from Pride and Prejudice. Aye, me. Now, my mother and sister got to spend several nights in the quaintest of thatched-roof cottages on their recent visit to Lacock and loved it. We were not so lucky, but we did pop into a tea shop and have a quick cuppa and a treacle tart to revive ourselves before wandering around the lovely village.

While the landscape surrounding Lacock was lovely, it was nothing compared to what hit us when we made our way into the Cotswolds proper. I was dumbfounded by the beauty of the place and bitterly disappointed that not one of our photos do it any justice. I don't remember where the above photo was taken, but I believe it was somewhere on the way into Stanton, the tiny village where we spent three glorious days.

This was our Bed and Breakfast, The Vine, in Stanton, recommended by Rick Steves and well off the beaten track. The innkeeper looked at us sideways when she heard our accents and said, "You must be fans of Rick Steves. His readers are the only Americans who come here." The place, as you can see, was lovely, and I wished we had stayed longer. The house had the smallest, steepest, most winding staircase I've ever seen. There was a velvet rope braced to the wall and we had to pull on it as if our lives depended on it in order to heave ourselves up the stairs.

There I am at breakfast the first morning in Stanton. I loved the cluttered, messy, but lovely dining room in that house. I felt right at home. There was an Aga in the kitchen and I decided to try soft boiled eggs served in egg cups for the first time. It was an abysmal failure as I hadn't the foggiest idea how to actually go about eating them and made a sad mess and, I'm sure, gave the kitchen staff something to laugh about when they cleared my plate. I also loved the candlesticks on the table so very much and was delighted to find a pair exactly like them at a street sale in London at the end of our trip. I bought them for my mother; she brings them out for every family meal.

Yes, we drove in England. Wait, let me clarify: THE VIKING drove in England. I didn't dare. I have a hard enough time keeping my left and right straight on a good day so I didn't think it was a good idea. We rented a car for our Cotswolds jaunt as public transportation is harder to come by in that area. It was terrifying. The Viking, being a born and bred New Yorker, learned to drive in New York city so we figured he'd be okay. But after driving in both Gloucester and York he declared he will never drive in Europe ever again! The other side of the road is the least of ones worries while driving over there! It's the personal space issue. We Americans are used to our personal space and lots of it. It was on this trip that we learned that is very uniquely an American concept. I never felt so violated in all my life as I did in a crowd in England. Seats, beds, showers, rooms, parking spaces, driving lanes, all are smaller than we're used to and it was nerve-wracking, not being used to it. The Viking did exceedingly well and it was wonderful being able to just drive around wherever we desired whilst in the countryside.

We drove past field after field of this pretty plant, which we found out is called rapeseed. Looking across the landscape you can see patches of brilliant yellow all over the place. We saw so much of it The Viking had to snap a photo of it, and I swiped a sprig to press in a book as a keepsake. It's framed with a few other English wildflowers and sitting in my living room.

Ah, the sheep. Herds and herds of sheep. Nothing like in Scotland, from what I hear, but there were still droves of them in the Cotswolds, all lolling about in their stone-walled patches. The Viking kept baa-ing at them which nearly drove me insane. Later on the trip we ran into an intolerable American woman who insisted the sheep had different "accents" than the sheep back home. Ridiculous, she was.

We got wonderfully lost on our ramblings through the Cotswolds and were charmed when we came across a young lady and her Border Collie herding their sheep into the fold for the evening. We watched as the dog ran back and forth, guiding the sheep forward and into the gate. We were breathless at the perfect quaintness of it all and then, we heard an electronic ringing noise and next thing we knew, the girl whipped out her cell phone and began chatting away! We found it to be hilarious and had a good laugh at ourselves for being initially surprised that a shepherdess would have a cell phone. Bloody American tourists!

We took a day-trip to Gloucester while based in the Cotswolds. We only had enough time to see the cathedral and the little tailor's shop from Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester. My mother used to read Beatrix Potter's stories to my sisters and me when we were younger so it was such a treat to see the tailor's shop, looking much the same as it did in the illustrations, on the outside at least. The inside is now a Beatrix Potter souvenir shop.

Gloucester Cathedral was magnificent, of course. The inside was very different from the other cathedrals and abbeys we visited. More massive and impressive than delicate or intricate.

Until you get to the cloisters, that is. I loved the cloisters at Lacock Abbey for the air of hushed serenity in them, but the cloisters at Gloucester were breathtaking. The ceiling reminded me of icing on an elaborate wedding cake. This was, of course, used as a location for several of the Harry Potter movies, most notably the scene in Chamber of Secrets when Harry, Ron and Hermione find Mrs. Norris petrified and then later when Harry and Ron see the writing in blood on the walls. Good times, good times.

Our time in the Cotswolds seemed hideously short. I could have spent a solid week there, exploring all the little villages. It remains my favorite place on earth. When I need to think of a happy place, I think of the Cotswolds.

I think that's another good place to break, while I gather my photos of the next leg of the trip: Warwick Castle, Durham, and, our favorite of the big cities we visited, York.


Amy said...

O.K., I have started reading your blog, (I don't really like that word, "blog" it sounds, well it sounds like, like a drink or I don't know, "blog") anyway, I am enjoying it so much. I will carry on now, reading. amy

Amongst The Oaks said...

Oh, your photos are lovely and make me want to go back! We visited Lacock too. B-E-A-utiful village. I can hardly wait for the next installment. Thanks,
Laura at Amongst The Oaks

PG said...

Ooh, just found your lovely blog through Amongst the Oaks, it is always interesting to read about one's country from another perspective - I heartily agree with you about the Cotswolds, I live in a village there, and this area is for me, the best place on Earth. Today we have cold blue skies with little cottony clouds, a chilly winter wind and the sun is making the stone cottages glow as I watch the day go by from my studio window. :)