Monday, June 18, 2018

England: Straford-Upon Avon, the Cotswolds, and Oxford

Hi guys! Time for Days 4-6 (if you missed my first post on this trip, and are one of those rare types that loves reading lots of words about other people's travels, then hop on over to my last post here)! Okay, so I tried really, really hard on this section of days, but only managed to whittle things down to my favorite 80 photos. So get those scrolling fingers ready, there's going to be a LOT of pictures here.

(England is just so darn picturesque!)

Day 4

We woke up in Stratford-Upon-Avon after a late night at the theater, and spent the morning wandering about and visiting the local Shakespeare sights. Which is what there is to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The birthplace! Lovely.

And the resting place, the local parish church. The plaque shows the inscription, penned by Shakespeare himself: "Good friend, for Jesus sake forbeare to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones." Maybe not his best poetry ever, but rather funny nonetheless. Maybe he had a premonition he'd become a world famous author with plenty of people itching to exhume his grave and study his remains, or re-bury him somewhere like Westminster Abby.

This church is actually really cool in it's own right. The grounds outside, especially with all the suitably creepy gravestones, were really beautiful.

After a little thrift shopping down the main street, we packed it up and headed down to the Cotswolds.

What is the Cotswolds? Good question. Technically, I've no idea what the word means or why it's named this, but it's a region that covers about five counties, and is famous for being rural, rustic, and incredibly picturesque. Back in the day (or so the story goes) when railroads and trains were rolling out to ever corner of this great British nation and revolutionizing transportation, somehow this little region got forgotten. There are no trains in or out of the area, which is why it is only accessible by car (or tour bus, if you opt for that kind of thing). And while I'm sure being forgotten by the railroads was an economic disadvantage back then, as they say, poverty is the great preserver of history! This area just sort of missed the Industrial revolution, and still feels like, minus the clothes and the cars and the busloads of Asian tourists, it's just a small farming community that walked out of the eighteenth century almost in tact.

In one afternoon, we hit up four towns on our driving tour: Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Upper and Lower Slaughter (as Bill Bryson says, no one knows how to name places better than the British!).

The buildings in the area are all made out of this yellow stone (limestone?), and it's pretty iconic. Chipping Campden was probably the most yellow/least green of all the towns we stopped in, but it was great for shopping.

This was perhaps my favorite book store stop of the whole trip, though unfortunately I wasn't about to fork out $75 for an antique Dickens...

 I also bought a couple of tea cups here. The antiquing around here was awesome!

Guys, how do I get lilacs to grow on my house like this? (Those are lilacs, right?)

Nathan very specifically wanted to stop at the church in Stow-on-the-Wold for one very cool reason:

This tree door, that looks straight out of a storybook (honestly, so much of this region looks straight out of a storybook.

We got kind of obsessed with all the cool doors everywhere.

Inside the tree door church.

Took a short break to enjoy a delicious Ploughman's Lunch platter (those pickled onions were amazing!).

Then we got to the Slaughters. This was Lower Slaughter, which has a little mill and museum, and therefore gets most of the tourist visitors. Also, this is just one of many pictures we took on this trip that could be called the "Suzanne standing on a utterly adorable bridge" series.

Lower Slaughter was nice (do you see the mill back there?) but my absolute favorite was when we got to the less busy Upper Slaughter:

This place truly looked like it fell out of a storybook.

I mean, people actually live in these places?

Nathan get his own bridge picture!

This will make a good Halloween pic...

Probably the least impressive church we saw, and it's still utterly adorable.

Not a road. I don't think. Although most of the lanes around here weren't much wider than this.

Tourism might now be the main industry, but farming is still a big one. It was so peaceful to just sit and watch the sheep out in the fields.

Finally we headed to our B&B in Bourton-on-the-Water (that's the front porch above, all the heart eyes!), found a pub in town for dinner (from what I recall, a really delicious burger made with local beef), and crashed.

Day 5

Oh man, guys, we're only on day 5! Day 5 and 6 were miraculously the only days we experienced rain on our whole trip. It was mostly just light drizzles, but you'll still see us bundled up in our rain coats.

In the morning we drove down to Bibury to get a glimpse of Arlington Row, purportedly one of the most photographed scenes in all of the Cotswolds.

These beautiful 17th Century cottages have been very well preserved, and trust me when I say it was a bit of miracle that I got this incredibly timed shot in between busloads of tourists that were swarming the place (I'm sure there were plenty of people just out of frame).

The whole little town was rather picturesque.

I'm not positive, but I think this was a public park. Like, yeah, this is how they landscape parks in the Cotswolds.

I mean!!!

Okay, after our soggy morning in Bibury, we decided to try to head indoors and tour a House. You know, a big, pretty, old kind of house. Unfortunately, all the houses I really wanted to tour were in parts of England we didn't get around to on this trip, but our B&B owner told us if we really wanted to see big and grand, we ought to head over to Blenheim Palace just outside the Cotswolds, so that's what we decided to do.

Big and grand for sure! I knew next to nothing about this place before we visited, but here's what we learned from our very excellent tour guide: Blenheim is the family home and estate of the Dukes of Marlborough. It was gifted to the first Duke of Marlborough from Queen Anne for some important military victory or other (seems like quite the grand gift, if you ask me), but by the time the family got around 8th Duke, he'd burned through the family coffers and the place was a mess. So the 9th Duke had to marry a Vanderbilt. It was not a happy marriage, but that money is what's still keeping the place going today. However, the palace might be most famous for a member of the family who never actually lived here, the 9th Duke's first cousin, Winston Churchill. Churchill was born here (accidentally, his mom went into labor two months early while they were visiting), proposed to his wife here, and is buried not far, in the local town parish church. Also, another family line includes the Spencers (yes, those Spencers), so I very much got the feeling that the British elite are a pretty small intermarried group here. The current Duke (twelfth, I think) actually still lives in the place with his family (for some of the year at least). Anyway, on to the house!

Yes, way to nail that over-the-top ostentatious look.

I may scoff at the grandeur of the rest of the house, but this library was no joke! I may have had a Belle moment walking into this room (yes, that's an organ at the end there, and what you can't see is the wing behind me with double decker shelves but unfortunately, no spiral staircase).

I found the Dickens shelf!

As cool as the house was, what I absolutely loved about this place was the grounds. Well worth the price of admission just to amble about the grounds and gardens! Warning, rose garden montage coming up:

The rose garden was nice, but I think we were a few weeks early to see it in it's full prime. My absolute favorite, however, was the Secret Garden. Yes, it was actually called the Secret Garden:

Oh look, me on a bridge again.

I could really live here, if it meant wandering these grounds every day (and having access to that library!).

For not being on our radar at all before we got here, Blenheim Palace ended up being a fabulous highlight, and is a serious recommend for anyone traveling in the area. Especially if you're a Churchill fan (they had a really neat Churchill exhibit, not pictured).

Okay, all that walking just about killed me, so we hobbled back to our sweet little B&B over in Bourton-on-the-Water for one more night.

Day 6

And were off after breakfast the next morning.

Here we have what is known as the Full English breakfast (actually, minus the mushrooms and beans, because as much as I love both mushrooms and beans, not for breakfast???). This is a seriously solid breakfast, and every day we had one of these, we'd usually end up skipping lunch because we simply weren't hungry. Also, can I just say how much I love the British for including hot chocolate as a legitimate hot drink choice alongside coffee and tea? Hot chocolate is not a common thing like that here in the States, but every single place we ate breakfast over there, it was always on the menu and no one batted an eye or thought it was strange when I ordered it. And this was no cup of hot water with powder mixed in, they always start with milk!!! And the chocolate is dark! Clearly, they are my kindred people.

We luxuriated a bit long over this breakfast, and therefore cut it a little close getting to Oxford in time for our tour, but we just barely made it!

So, I'm not exactly sure who sponsors these tours (maybe the University itself?) but twice a day there are these two-hour-long free tours led by actual students. You can see our tour-guide above in the striped shirt, telling us all about the door there. She's an archeology grad student, and I must say, getting a tour from an insider like this was simply fabulous. She was fantastic! And, the tour was free, but included entrance into Balliol College (usually you have to pay a few pounds for the privilege of visiting a college) and the Bodleian library (also something you usually have to pay for). This was a fascinating tour, and if you ever go to Oxford, I highly recommend it (I just hope your student guide is as good as ours was!).

Just some random quad with a breathtaking garden (okay, how much would it cost me in time and money to recreate an English garden in my Kansas backyard???)

Balliol's dining hall. Not quite the one they modeled Harry Potter after (I think that was Christ Church), but there were four tables!

I'm forgetting the name of these funny little face statue gargoyle things, but Oxford had a pretty fantastic amount of such decorative statuary. Get ready for another montage!

Window peeker!

Beer drinker.

The writer (with the tongue sticking out and everything!).

And the reader.

Here we are in the Bodleian courtyard. Maybe you don't know much about Oxford, or have never heard of the Bodleian before, but it's featured in my research before so I was pretty excited to be here!

Look familiar? This room from the library was used in several Harry Potter films.

One of the best things about getting a tour from an insider is that she could explain what was going on with all the students walking around in robes with carnations in their lapels and/or shaving cream and confetti all over them. Apparently we were there in the middle of exams week, and Oxford has some pretty serious hazing traditions for students who finish their last set of exams before graduation (and yes, they have to wear robes to exams!). It was tidbits like this that made the tour so great.

So at the end of our tour, my husband and I actually split up. I returned to the the Special Collections wing of the library to do a little hands-on research (eek!). This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. I didn't have a specific project or goal I was working on, but it was an opportunity not to be missed. I actually had to jump through quite a few hoops to get a reading card, and had lots of back-and-forth emails with the librarians for weeks leading up to it, but then I got to spend a rainy afternoon sitting in the reading room looking through some late 18th Century editor's notes on Shakespeare, and it was amazing!

While I was doing that, Nathan checked into our hotel and then took it upon himself to visit Christ Church (another one of the more famous colleges within the University) without me (oh well). So, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few of his pictures.

After my exciting day in the library, I met back up with my husband for his most exciting part of the trip: an evening at England's first board game cafe. Yes, he found his people, even over there. And it really was a fun way to spend a rainy evening.

Oxford, you were lovely! I hope I make it back some time (and I hope I get to spend more time in your beautiful library!).

But seriously, that's enough for one post, right? Are you even still reading now? I'm really, really sorry about the oversharing (I just can't help myself!). I will try to keep it shorter in my next post, but I'll be trying to cover all of our last five days in London in one go, so...

No comments:

Post a Comment