Frank's travels around Britain 2009.
Centred around the Travelodge at Cheltenham, I was out to find all those lovely villages that aren't that well known. The lodge itself was excellent. I was unlucky to have a room near what seemed to be the air-conditioning unit. I guess in hot weather, the noise would prevent leaving the window open. This time, in this weather it was of no consequence. I got excellent meal in the attached Harvester outlet. Peri Peri sauce on a half chicken with fries etc & an free salad bar all for £4:50. Very nice too! I ate breakfast at a Morrison's, excellent as always. Because of the rain, I tried to The Harvester one morning to find it stopped serving breakfast at 9 am! Wrong, Harvester! Some of us grockles aren't working. I think they are loosing trade with that idea.
Those lovely places like Bourton-on-the-water, Stow-in-the-Wold, Broadway & Burford have already been visited by me & the rest of the world. I knew there were pretty places that had not crossed my path & it was a shear delight to find them.
My luck ran out a bit on this trip. I drove down in dreadful conditions & suffered them again on the Wednesday afternoon. The rain Gods obviously thought I was getting away with far too much, over these few years & visited me with a vengeance. I think they must have been distracted a little on the Tuesday & Wednesday morning, it was "reasonable" but to make sure I understood who was in charge, I came back to Lancashire in the most glorious of conditions, with the sun shining & the leaves turning to autumn colours.
I always claim to learn sometime on any of my trips. Usually its historical details, a connection I never knew existed or stunning photographs from an unexpected source. This trip it was the Japanese connection!
The weather was misty, the village was a delight but I needed a coffee. Chatting to people, without an introduction, is a sociable thing or just plain nosey, dependant on your view point. I was talking to the owner of the post office in Bibury & asking if this was now the end of his busy period & was it just going to fade away until the spring. Sure enough, he thought it would be quiet now ... "apart from the Japanese, of course. They are here year round." It would appear that William Morris has a huge following in Japan. He was famous as the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement & his country home from 1871 until his death in 1896, was Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds. You add the fact that Crown Prince Hirohito travelled to Europe for 6 months & he seemed to have some sort of connection with this area. Once I knew that, it was amazing how many Japanese people I saw. In fact one beautiful cottage had a notice outside, indicating that it was private property ... in two languages, English & Japanese!
There are many villages described as "England's most beautiful" but for our Japanese guests, William Morris's recommendation of Bibury, comes high up on the list. It is a very special village with a character of it's own and pure Cotswold. It has breathtaking beauty and is so tranquil by the river in October. It wanders through the Coln valley, with it's trout, bird life & enchanting Cotswold stone cottages and old mills.
There are two communities that form the Bibury village proper, the 14th century Arlington Row, down the hill from the church, provides the centre for photographs you see on many calendars & handbooks across the Cotswolds. Originally it was a wool store, then altered into weavers cottages and now restored by the National Trust & should be on every ones visiting list.
Famous small villages that everyone seems to know are Upper & Lower Slaughter. Their names come from the old name for a stream or "Slough", rather than referring to any great massacres. Being me, I assumed they were competing slaughter houses! Both are delightful, both have the river running through them, although Upper Slaughter does have ford with the most glorious of views. Lower Slaughter has a very nice old corn mill/museum/cafe & gift shop. Neither villages were packed with people at this time of the year. I would imagine that, come summer & its sunshine, just parking the car could be a problem. Quiet or not, the world was there. I spoke to the Australians, Scots & what I thought were the Dutch. (It turned out to be Afrikaans!) There were even the ubiquitous English & Japanese! I wisely drew a line at trying to communicate with our visitors from Nippon.
I saw two small towns (or large villages). One was Northleach. A very pleasant place, quite picturesque & worth visiting but I was struck by Winchcombe much more. I must qualify any statement I make by saying I know you'd have to be well off to live there!
It is a real town. Much more reminiscent of the 1950s, not in that old tired way, but its shops & it's people. The only multiple shop appears to be the cooperative. no W. H. Smiths, no Top shop or Bargain Booze. As you enter the town, it proudly displays "This is a Fair Trade Town". The houses look entirely Grade II listed. It is on the main road from Cheltenham & I can imagine its a nightmare to get through on occasions. This is no pretty village that has been by-passed. This is an original "Butchers, Bakers & Candlestick makers" sort of place. To shop here means top dollar for excellent produce. I don't think the residents have much too worry about the price of things. It looks like "old money" people. It reminds you of officers in mufti & ladies who lunch. It looks like their real worries are getting staff or a builder that is Grade II qualified to fix their beautiful home. Everybody seems more relaxed, there is no nouveau riche hostility. Its polite & reasonable. A handmade, only the best ingredients & old fashioned type of outlets are required. Its a place steeped in history. The Belas Knap Neolithic long barrow is a hilltop above the town, constructed from about 3000 BC. Later, during Anglo-Saxon times, Winchcombe was a chief city of Mercia and favoured, it is said, by Coenwulf. Subsequently, during the 11th century, the town was briefly the county town of Winchcombeshire. The Anglo-Saxon St. Kenelm is believed to be buried in the town. In the immediate vicinity can be found Sudeley Castle and the remains of Hailes Abbey, which was one of the main centres of pilgrimages in Britain due to a phial possessed by the monks said to contain the Blood of Christ.
As you can gather, I liked Winchcombe. I bet the traffic is hard work on some days. I think the summer will be packed with grockles visiting the castle & abbey but it is probably a safe, pleasant, small town with all you need (if you can afford it).
I think that goes for the whole of the Cotswolds. It's just that some places are pretty pretty spots that jam with tourists & are full of holiday lets, like Bibury, Bourton-on-the-water & Castle Combe. And one or two places are like Winchcombe. Real, liveable & very pleasant.
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