As I've said before, forgive my poor comprehension in this blog. I'm writing as I'm thinking and not worrying too much about proofing because of time constaints.
Tuesday 10 April 2012
The Cotswolds - meaning the sheep hills
The tour bus left Victoria Station bus transit, which holds dozens of buses. Our bus was four days old and had that new car smell.
I timed it beautifully and got the front seat to myself. This gave me great views from the side and front.
It amused me that people pay money to go on a tour and then spend most of the time reading or sleeping until they get to their destination. What's the point in that. They miss out on the wonderful countryside as they travel.
This area of England has 38 million visitos a year. The population of the area is 30,000. Most of the towns have a population of around 500. Predominantly farmland, with rolling hills, sheep and horses with the odd dairy farm. The pig farms were noticeable for their open farming of the pigs.
The entire area is the cover of a biscuit tin or chocolate box, with ivy covered farm houses and thatched cottages dotting the countryside. Hedgerows and dry stone walls everywhere pocketed between vast areas of forests. The forest trees vary with mixtures of birch, pine and other English trees I diidn't readily identify.
Today we took a leisurely coach ride through many small villages, each one quaint and sleepy, although tourists were everywhere. I can't, really can't put into words how beautiful the countryside is as you drive through it. Everything you see on the tv regarding these beautiful villages is quite true.
As I've said I have hundreds of photos but will not post most of them until I get home. The ones I post now will be just an idea of what I have seen.
We travelled through Oxford, famous for the beautiful Oxford College, on to our first stop at Burford on the Windrush river. The church in Burford dates back to the 1400's and still shows the bullet holes where Henry VIII soldiers executed the churchmen.
Lime stone is used in most of the buildings which have stood steady throughout time and are still habitable. The dry stone walls have no mortar, just stones that were too small to use for building, all fit together in a snug, solid wall. Amazing people the stonemasons.
Burford has boutique shops in the little houses and street fronts. It was here that I found an RM Williams and Akubra shop. No real surpirse when you know just how many Aussies are in England. I have been visiting the local pubs, as most of these are quintissentially old English in every way. I love the feel of these pubs and could settle in for the duration if allowed. The Cotswold Arms in Burford was bright inside despite the low ceilings.
The church in Burford has a square tower, with a spire having been added almost as an afterthought. This is because churches built before France invaded had square spires and after the French arrived, they made all the churches have tall pointy spires.
This church had separate altars, one for the general congregation and private altars for others. One such person was Henry Harmon, King Henry's barber surgeon. A barber surgeon would shave, cut hair, bleed with leeches and provide dental services. They reused the bloodied bandages and hung them on a pole outside, hence the birth of the red and white barber pole. They became plain barbers with the move toward surgery as a profession.
The Burford area is said to be very old, with a document mentioning a meeting of the Synod in the area in the year 685. The churches in England are numerous and very ostentatious, but they serve a vital service. Monestaries were almost the only written record keepers from the dark ages up until the year 1000.
The Romans invaded England and occupied it for approx 400 years, leaving in the year 410 AD. During their occupation they had a lot of buildings built, but just as many demolished, and with them a lot of history.
King Charles I lived for some time in the Cotswolds. As anyone who has studied English history knows, King Charles was the monarch when the Enghlish revolution began between the king's cavaliers and Oliver Cromwell's round heads. King Charles is the only monarch to be executed. After his death, parliament, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, ruled the people. Cromwell was a puritan and banned all music, parties, festivities of any sort and even tried to ban Christmas. Upon his death, the people reinstated the exiled prince, giving England back to the monarchy, but under changed powers to rule the people.
Whilst travelling through the Cotswolds I saw a number of wild pheasants, a pair of birds which looked like a golden pheasant. There were a couple of giant red pheasants that were magnificent. Also saw wild deer, which were lovely and plentiful in the country.
We left Burford and travelled tioo Bibury, where we were having lunch. Plenty of tourists here and I found it hard to take photos without people in them. Sigh.. I just had to be patient.. sigh.
Bibury was built in the 1300's and has a row of houses -Arlington Row -that are the most photographed in the Cotswolds.
Plenty of photo opportunities here. The village has their own trout farm and the local inn offered trout for lunch, which I enjoyed very much. The inn was a large coach in with tartan carpet and comfy chairs. The dining room was very large for such a place, with white linen and very posh service. Lunch was wondeful.
We took the bus on to Stratford on Avon (Avon is an old word for River). I was pretty disappointed with Straford. Terribly overcommercialised and very busy. There were some areas that looked like I'd ennvisaged, but overall it has been corrupted by commerce and I did not enjoy the walk through town,
However, having said I was disappointed, I did enjoy some aspects of the town. We saw the BBC tv series Time Team doing an archealogical dig on the site of Shakespeares original house. They are searching for Shakespeare and the theory now is that the three pictures known to be those of Shakespeare, may in fact, not be him at all.
There is a book that claims Shakespeare was bisexual, with proof to be found in his sonnets. How that can be proven or disproven is yet to be seen I suppose. What is interesting is that his daughter Suzanna inherited everything on Shakespeare's death, which was unusual for that era.
Stratford has a lot of gabled houses, built from oak and pitch (anything suitable to fill the gaps between the wood). These houses show their age as they tend to lean in a number of directions.
It wasn't until I got to the church where Shakespeare was buried that I became very excited. Shakespeare is not buried in Poets Corner in London as it did not exist when he died and he had requested to be buried with other family members in the local church.
The Church yard was lovely, full of old headstones in amongst trees and bushes. It sat facing the Avon and the footpath along the river held the small headstones of children. The only disappointing thing was the the headstones older than 1800 were too hard to read. I loved walking around through the stones and wondered how it would feel at night.
After a lovely day soaking up the picturesque contryside, we headed back to London, about 1.5 hours away. We travelled back through Warwickshire, passing the huge Warwick Castle in the distance. We also drove through Notting Hill, with some lovely garden squares, before being dropped off at Victoria station. I booked my ticket for Inverness, my stomach flip flopping with true excitement at the thought that I would be in Scotland in two days.
Taking the underground, which is safe and easy to use, I took the train back to Earls Court. I found a chinese restaurant and had a nice meal. The service was exceedingly quick, but the food tasty and all for under £10. Can't say that anything is dear here. It's on a par with Australia. I have some problems with the coins, as there are a lot of them, and it's strange to handle paper money.
It's also a custom to tip people here, from restaurants to tour operators. I've been pretty good at remembering this and don't mind as most of the service has been good and everyone is very friendly.
The Cotswold tour was done through Premium Tours, which was the same company as the one I used to Bath and Stonehenge. I'd recommend the tours. They give a lot of information and provide a good service.