A Day In The Cotswolds

Luke signed us up for a ‘Secret Cottage’ tour of the Cotswolds and so we arrived at Oxford station ready to catch a train to meet our group, only to find that, for the second time in a week, someone had been hit by a train and thrown the network into disarray. After hanging about for a bit a delayed train was rerouted and we jumped on and actually got to the meeting point a bit early.

We were met by two black vans and two drivers – ours was a local man named Jeremy who turned out to be an almost inexhaustible font of knowledge with a perfect BBC accent. He was the first (and probably the last) person I will ever hear using ‘one’ as an entirely unselfconscious personal pronoun.

Along with two girls from California who had arrived by the same train, we jumped in and were driven to a tiny village called Chastleton. There we admired a Jacobean manor which, up until quite recently, housed a lady who own 21 cats. Apparently the smell was quite something.

We also had a look in the church next door before heading around the corner to the ‘secret cottage’. The family who organise the tours live in the cottage and provide morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea throughout the day. Before eating we had a tour of the cottage.

Those mushroom shaped objects are ‘straddle stones’ used to elevate storage sheds so mice and rats couldn’t climb up.

It was originally three living spaces with families of up to 15 in each two room space. One room downstairs and one upstairs, reachable by a ladder. In winter the family pig and chickens would live inside too. These days it’s much nicer, with just four people living in the cottage rather than 45!

Morning tea was a delicious selection of biscuits and cakes.

On each excursion out we visited different villages in the Cotswolds and admired many thatched cottages and learned a great deal from Jeremy about the area’s history, geography, language, animals and social goings-on. For example, did you know that Patrick Stewart lives in the Cotswolds and writes many peeved letters to his local council about the shooting range near his property?

We visited Upper and Lower Slaughter – two gorgeous villages with rather dramatic names. However ‘slaugh’ meant ‘marsh’ in an old language, which makes it all less sinister. One of the villages is one of Britain’s ‘doubly thankful’ villages. This means that not one person was killed in either world war. Jeremy explained that the wars had quite devastating effects on some villages as all the young men would want to join the same regiment and so, if that regiment was in serious action, they could lose a generation in one blow.

We learned that while thatched roofs may be beautiful, they are also expensive. They cost about forty thousand pounds to restore (for a medium sized cottage) and a thatch last about 50 years. Some thatchers make signature animals along the roof line – often birds but sometimes cats, dogs and foxes.

Lunch!

The name ‘Cotswolds’ come from ‘cot’ meaning a fenced or enclosed space (from all the sheep pens) and ‘wold’ meaning ‘hills’.

A newly thatched cottage.

We saw a village named Great Tew that had been abandoned last century then revitalised when an heir to the estate had been found. It was a beautiful village filled with gorgeous buildings.

And a very cute pub!

Jeremy had worked as a geologist and as we walked through the village he found a brachiopod fossil!

It doesn’t look like much here but I could tell it was a shell, I promise!

He also had a little wallet of things he’d found while walking around the area, including a Roman coin. It’s the tiny blackened one.

Afternoon tea!

It was a lovely day. Not cheap, at £95, but it didn’t feel at all rushed and we had a very nice group of people to chat to, in fact four others from our group caught the same train back towards Oxford so we chatted the whole way. Lovely!

Blenheim Palace

I wanted to visit at least one grand house while in England and they don’t come much grander than Blenheim. Built in the 17th century by the Marlborough family, it is a vast building with extensive gardens and over 9000 acres of grounds. It is the only non-royal or non-episcopal palace in England and a UNESCO-listed building.

We arrived a little earlier than the building opened (the grounds open at 9, the building at 10:30) so we had a look around the gift shop.

Compared to the gift shops that spawn alongside Australian attractions, English gift shops of the National Trust variety are models of elegance and good taste. They sell hand-dyed silk scarves, embroidered cushions and cashmere cardigans – all at fairly outrageous prices, of course. There’s also mugs and tea towels but even these are fairly understated.

We availed ourselves of the ‘free’ (included in the somewhat steep entry price – although if you catch the bus there rather than drive you get 30% off which isn’t bad) audio guide and set around the interior. Well, some of it. As the Duke was in residence all the upstairs tours were not available. Still, what we saw was quite grand.

There was an exhibition of modern art sensitively interspersed between the historical artifacts. Did I say sensitively? I meant hideously. Despite this I managed to find a few angles that didn’t include all the bright blue paintings and statues.

As the palace was Winston Churchill’s birthplace there was an exhibition of his work and achievements that was very informative. I particularly enjoyed seeing his paintings.

We took a walk by the lake and rose garden on one side of the palace. The roses weren’t in their best condition but the few that were still out had a beautiful perfume.

Last, a walk to the pleasure gardens, which didn’t seem to actually have any gardens. There was a large playground and a butterfly house. As is always the case, the butterfly house was uncomfortably hot but also full of gorgeous butterflies that I could’ve spent all day photographing.

We lazily caught the 50p train back to the palace rather than walk, then headed out to the village of Woodstock, that sits right by one of the gates. The village is very pretty and full of tea shops and pubs. Below is the Bear Inn, which must look absolutely magnificent in autumn.

A good day out from Oxford, Blenheim is certainly interesting if you like history and old houses and whatnot. Googling the current Lord Marlborough was also very interesting – something of a jailbird whose father did not trust him not to squander the family fortune and so left a board of trustees to oversee his management of the estate. Apparently he was known for driving too fast around the local area in a pink sports car.

Next: a tour of the Cotswolds!

Here Comes The Planet 74 – Frascati (2018)

Frascati is a small town about half an hour from Rome which we visited on a winery tour. Apart from having some of the oldest businesses in the country, it also has some beautiful views of Rome in the distance, as well as the vineyards dotting the hills. A lovely spot!

Read Amanda’s entry on our Frascati wine tour here.

France: Nice

We arrived in Nice after several hours in a train carriage that had all the sights and sounds of an unruly crèche. A family with four small children and two adults plus about a dozen bags of toys and belongings sprawled across the eight seats in front of us, with the parents allowing the kids to hang over into the aisle and block the passage of people trying to walk through. When one woman, trying to get past, tripped over a child’s leg and landed heavily on the foot of the offending mother it seemed like appropriate karma. Very satisfying to watch, it was.

Aside from that our journey was uneventful and it was nice to spend half a day in airconditioning after the 37 degree heat of Lyon.

We caught a tram from the train station to our Airbnb apartment and discovered that it was 104 steps up to the fifth floor and it was definitely the smallest apartment we’d ever had. It did have aircon though and a tiny balcony that looked over the rooftops.

The balcony was so small that we had to shuffle the table forwards and backwards to get both of us out there.

On the first night we relaxed with our usual plate of cheese, ham and some cheap wine and planned our stay. Luke booked us into a variety of activities.

1. A walking tour of the old city. We did this on our first full day. It was €14 each and the tour guide was an Australian girl who had lived in Nice for the last ten years. She was obviously very knowledgeable about the city but had a kind of clipped way of delivering the information which made it all seem very rote-learned.

My favourite thing on the tour was a baroque church that was so over the top it sort of came out of bad taste into cool kitchness. It also had chandeliers.

2. A small group evening visit to Monaco.

It ended up being a very small group – just Luke and I and our driver, Antonio. He was great and full of information about Monaco and how it runs. I didn’t really know much about Monaco before we went so it was somewhat eye-opening.

The thing we both liked most was the cars.

Antonio dropped us off at the casino after a drive around the race track and royal residences. In front of the casino normal people hang around looking at cars and hoping to see someone famous… I guess? I couldn’t think of any other reason.

Not actually terribly attractive.

We went for a walk and had a look at the opera house and then looked down from a viewpoint onto the decks of some of the super yachts that lined the harbour. How annoying to be rich enough to own a super yacht then have plebs watching you eat your dinner!

We had a drink and then dinner at Cafe de Paris, an open air restaurant next to the casino where you can watch the fancy cars and fancy people walk past. The food was actually pretty good for somewhere so busy, and very nicely presented.

After dinner we stepped into the Monte Carlo Casino foyer and there was an art installation featuring a maze of playing cards.

We met up again with Antonio and boggled at the fact that people who are rich enough to come to Monaco would actually want to go there. It’s not a particularly attractive place and the main goal seems to be to show off. Saudi princes get their sports cars flown there for their two week holidays just so they can drive them around town at 10km an hour. The whole thing seemed to represent the worst of humanity but at the same time it was certainly interesting.

3. Nice food tour!

We always like a food tour. We had a very pretty and vivacious woman named Marion as our guide for this tour through the markets and stores of Nice’s old town.

We walked through the market and some speciality shops and Marion bought samples of fruit and pastries then stopped at a restaurant to have a drink and try various things.

Then we walked on to buy wine and try socca, a local chickpea pancake, plus an onion tart, both of which are traditional street food.

We finished at a store that sold gourmet olive oils etc and tried some samples then finished with a table full of cheeses, meats and fruits.

I wish I’d taken more notes throughout as Marion was very knowledgeable about cheeses and wines. I’d definitely recommend this tour to anyone interested in French food. Google ‘the French way tours’ for more information.

4. A tour of Cannes and Provence.

Another small group minivan tour. This time, sadly, we didn’t have the van to ourselves.

Our driver was a young and bubbly woman from Hungary who had pretty good English but occasional words were a puzzle until context made them clear. For example I thought she had said that Italians had brought ladder making from Italy until eventually I realised it was leather making. Our guide also had to shout to be heard by the people in the back seat, which meant we were caught in the crossfire in the middle row and the commentary was unceasing and quite repetitive. Luke’s a pretty patient person but even he was getting sore ears by the end of the day.

First we stopped for 40 minutes in Cannes. Obviously as a film editor, it was a bit of a pilgrimage for Luke although not terribly exciting when there was nothing going on.

Next we headed to several small villages in the hills.

it is hard to believe people lived up here for centuries and had to walk hours down to the valleys and coast to buy supplies. Not to mention getting building materials up the mountain.

We visited three villages. In the first we toured the Fragonard perfume factory. It was sort of interesting but when we came out into the village for five minutes afterwards it was so pretty I wished we had time there instead.

We stopped at another tiny village for a rather rushed lunch then a final village that was where Chagall lives and is now a centre for fine arts… and tacky crap. It was very pretty though and extremely busy.

We found a quiet spot and watched a storm roll in over the hills of Provence.

There was so much lightning that Luke managed to capture some video of it on his phone and posted it to Instagram.

We made it back to Nice by 5pm and had a quiet evening on our balcony.

Here Comes The Planet 67 – Kenya 08

As we finally close out the Africa leg of our world tour, our Dragoman truck mates reflect on some of the highlights and lowlights, the things we will miss and the things we will be happy to leave behind.

A big part of why I enjoyed Africa so much was our tour guide Steve. His passion for the wildlife really made our safaris a thrill. I don’t think I’d have gotten as much out of the experience if it wasn’t for his enthusiasm. He also had other qualities we enjoyed. 🙂 Many thanks to you, mate!

***

It’s fitting that this video closes out one big section of our 2013 trip, just in time to make way for the one we’re about to undertake in 2018.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a boarding lounge at Melbourne Airport, about to jump on a plane to finally catch up with Amanda over in London. We’re both very keen to be back together again and start our adventure! The videos going forward will be of our current trip. Anyone who’s followed the blog for long enough know that chronology goes out the window when you work as slowly as I do. 😛

I’ll try to get all our 2018 travel videos done by the end of the year – but no promises! 😉