A Quick Jaunt Through the Cotswolds

The CL we’d booked for our stay in Bath was the very same one we’d stayed at this time last year when we’d just bought Nettle. My memory of it was a bit fuzzy but when I saw the horses it all came flooding back like it was yesterday. I remember waking up in the morning and seeing those same two horses nuzzling, playing with each other and generally running around like foals.

As we drove up the driveway we were delighted to see that the field we’d taken an awesome panorama of last year had now been planted with wheat, so although the tire tracks were still there they were highlighted with bluey-green wheat instead of tiny white flowers.

Then

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Now

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Also, I had no idea wheat is so colourful!

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We had a couple of days to kill until my high school mates – Sarah, Carmen and Sarah’s mum Diane – arrived in Bath. We were without electricity, however, and with a busted leisure battery, so Mike got a lot of reading done (of the ‘dead-tree’ kind of book, that is – Mike) and I put the finishing touches on a painting and whipped up a little birthday present for Sarah (who’s birthday is in a couple of days).

When the gang finally arrived in Bath we arranged to pick them up the next day and head out to the Cotswolds in Nettle. On the way to Bath we got a little lost thanks to GPS’ charming tendency to discombobulate in built-up areas – just when you need it the most. Unfortunately our “little late” turned into a lot late when I proceeded to walk around Bath looking for them, having made the mistake of relying on my memory instead of the map in my hand. Peeps finally found, we headed back to Mike and Nettle, generally mooched and caught up then discussed our plans for the day. The hefty responsibility of choosing which Cotswold towns to visit was delegated to me as I’ve been there before. Our first destination was Oxford. I’d only seen Sarah twice in the ten years since graduation from high school but we easily slipped back into our friendship and were giggling uncontrollably at the slightest thing like we always used to. It was hard sitting in the front, I really wanted to chat with the gals but Nettle’s rather prohibitively loud when she gets going.

Once in Oxford we made a bee line to a park and had a picnic lunch that the girls had brought along, of baguettes, soft cheeses, dips and fruit. Our first port of call was Christ Church College as a few scenes from the first couple of Harry Potter movies were shot there. We didn’t end up going in as the admission fee was a cheeky £6 and we couldn’t really do it justice given that we wanted to see a couple of villages as well. We settled for wandering around the grounds instead. We looked on rather bemusedly at the things the girls decided were photo-worthy. It reminded me how it felt when I was here for the first time – coming from Australia where anything older than 100 years is considered historic and the grandest building I’d seen was St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne with an impressive 125 years of history. Given our speedy itinerary I suggested we just stroll through the city centre a little bit instead of heading to any sites in particular. For the next 20 minutes we walked through some pretty ordinary looking bits of town until we turned a corner and Wham! There you are, Oxford! Unfortunately in all the excitement of having new people around we don’t seem to have taken many photos. Here’s a vaguely interesting building for you:

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We stumbled on an exhibition of an edition of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Salvador Dali. I was a big fan of his in high school and of course love the story as well so we eagerly checked it out. I was kind of expecting he would have toned down the crazy for the project at hand but it was pretty much standard, wacky Dali. Definitely not children friendly. Oxford was absolutely teeming with tourists and even if we’d had a whole day scheduled for the town I’m not sure we would have chosen to stay for much longer. Eager to escape the masses we headed back to Nettle and onto Bourton on the Water – the name rung a bell so I was hoping it was the one I’d visited way back in 2003. On the way we spotted a field of deer. Like big geeks we reversed back and got out to take photos.

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Mike and I saw a very pointless looking little structure sitting in the field and wondered if it was a “folly”. We’re reading a fabulously informative book at the moment, called “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” by Bill Bryson and are learning all sorts of random and fascinating things – from the ice trade, to Palladian architecture and the history of beds. A “folly” is a building on an estate “designed with no other purpose in mind than to complete a view and provide a happy spot for the wandering eye to settle“.

Arriving in Bourton on Water (Mike – ….and trying to get the song “Smoke On The Water” out of my head…) I instantly recognised it as the right place and just like the last time I was here there were quite a few people out enjoying the nice weather and dangling their feet in the icy water of the little stream. We leisurely wandered about, spotted some cute little ducklings and grabbed a coffee which we optimistically hoped would taste a bit better than brown water. After laughing at my latte being more like a cappuccino and Sarah’s cappuccino being more like a latte, Carmen and I declared that they didn’t taste too bad at which point Sarah kindly informed us that we’ve been in the UK for too long and have obviously forgotten what coffee tastes like. We defended our statement with the facts that it didn’t taste like brown water, the beans weren’t burnt, ergo not a bad coffee by UK standards, at which point Sarah died a little inside. There was a rather unfortunate but humurous moment when we were having this discussion when Carmen began to say that “we at least shouldn’t complain until…” with the waitress standing right behind her ready to serve the rest of our order. I felt bad for her when we all started laughing after she left but it was just such unfortunate timing we couldn’t not. I hope we didn’t hurt her feelings. Maybe we should have explained to her that we are Melburnians and therefore gigantic coffee snobs. Ah well…

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A bit of engaging conversation and a joyless caffeine injection later we headed off for our final Cotswold destination – a town I may or may not have been to – Stow on the Wold. In Stow on the Wold we noticed little yellow boxes dotted around with the word “grit” on them. We were intrigued and opened one up not having the faintest of what we would find within… It was a substance that looked remarkably a lot like… well, grit. At which point we cracked up laughing and imagined people going around saying “I could really do with a bit of grit right about now”. We managed to deduce by the added ingredient of salt that it is for sprinkling on the roads when it snows – probably something quite obvious to most northern hemisphere dwellers but we’re Australians so allowances must be made. Now, who’s for some grit?

I didn’t remember much about Stow on the Wold, including if I’d actually been there before, and there certainly wasn’t anything that memorable about it this time around either. We strolled about the deserted streets and Mike and I had our second history geek fix when we spotted windows with a circular lump in the middle of the glass. We’d read that this method of production was much more affordable when glass was still quite expensive. As we walked Carmen relayed the history behind a couple of phrases she’d learnt about when she was in Edinburgh. To “cost an arm and a leg” stems from a time when cadavers were in great demand by surgeons who needed to practise their skills as much as possible due to the lack of anaesthesia and the need to work very quickly. Cadavers were in short supply however, as only those of executed criminals were allowed to be used. This saw a spate of grave robbing to supply the demand, as fresh cadavers fetched a pretty penny. Hence, something expensive cost an “arm and a leg”. Interestingly, as Mike and I had also read, a couple of particularly entrepreneurial chaps decided grave robbing was far too much hassle and a bit dangerous, what with the guards and all, so they decided it would be far more efficient to simply murder people. They did and one of them was eventually caught. He gave up his partner in crime and got off light. The other who was not so fortunate was executed, and in a very neat twist of fate his cadaver was used for surgery practise.

The second phrase was “to get shit-faced”. To get shit-faced stems way back to when people threw their effluent out of windows onto the streets below. If you’ve never before felt immensely lucky to be born in the time you have been born, feel free to take a moment now (I’ll wait). Apparently there was an agreed-upon hour to throw this stuff about which unhappily coincided with closing time of all the pubs in Britain. Inebriated fellows stumbled out onto the streets and in their drunken stupor looked up, instead of moving as quickly as humanly possible, when a warning cry came from above. Hence, the term “to get shit-faced”.

We admired a crooked building for a bit – anything slightly wonky is fascinating to a people who come from a country were everything is relatively new and therefore annoyingly uniform. On the way home we stopped off for a good old English pub meal – at a pub, incidentally, that was around long before Henry VIII was busy lopping off his wives’ heads – and a pint of cider. Sarah – a dietitian – ordered a burger with a deep-fried patty of spinach and two types of cheese – a dietitian ordered deep-fried cheese! We had a fascinating and horrifying conversation about all sorts of parasites and how they make their way into your body, punctuated with plenty of real life stories. (Mike – My favourite was the one about the African worm which made its way into its host’s foot, then all the way up into their bowels, where eventually it, well, made its way out, and out, and out, and out) We dropped the guys off in Bath and flopped into bed as soon as we got home, absolutely spent and delighted to have spent a day with such awesome people.

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