Touring the Cotswold and Lake District
By Pauline Hager
Since 1998, members of my husband’s former work team have met every two years for a reunion at various places in the world. Our first was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, then Las Vegas, Nevada, overseas to Aix en Provence, France, and St. Petersburgh, Russia. This past September 2008, we congregated at Kemerton, England, a charming village four miles from Tewkesbury in the beautiful Cotswold region. Kemerton is located on the foot of Bredon Hill. The hill goes up 1,000 feet and on a clear day, you can see five counties. Bredon Hill’s claim to fame is eulogized in a poem of that name written by A.E. Houseman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ in 1896. Here is the last stanza of Bredon Hill:
The bells they sound on Bredon (pronounced Breedon)
And still the steeples hum.
"Come all to church, good people,"--
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.
Our former English colleague, Michael, made rental arrangements for seven days at the Upper Court and Courtyard Cottages, an old Georgian Manor, comprising six renovated cottages in an attached compound. The compound was located on a 15-acre plot of land with an old millpond, gardens, swimming pool, and tennis court. My husband and I camped in The Stables, a lovely two-story suite that sleeps four people. The other guests occupied the Courtyard Cottage, The Garden Flat, The Watermill Cottage, The Dovecote, with a gorgeous view of the lake and millstream, and The Coach House. All were unique and beautifully furnished in Victorian fashion The Coach House was our gathering place with its large living and dining room and renovated kitchen.
Our first evening dinner was at the local pub, The Crown, a few minutes walk up the lane from Upper Court. We closed the place down at 10:30 p.m., as we were all tired from our long plane trip. Early next morning, with a caravan of five cars we toured the famous city of Tewkesbury and visited Tewksbury Abbey. The brochure claims that there has been a church on this site for over 1200 years, and the present building has been there for the last 900 years. As with all cathedrals and abbeys in England, this church is awesome in its history, architect, and stained glass windows. After touring the city, we had an excellent lunch in a small lunch and teashop. The following morning we drove to Stratford-Upon-Avon, visited William Shakespeare’s home and later went to the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre to see The Taming of the Shrew. The acting was superb, but it was difficult to understand if you don’t know the plot. We had already seen Anne Hathaway’s home and decided not to revisit.
The next day, we visited Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cotswold Hills. This place would be a great setting for a historical novel as it is steeped in history. The castle goes back to medieval times when King Ethelred (The Unready) 978-1016 gave the original Saxon House to his daughter as a wedding gift. This site has royal connections, spanning one thousand years of turbulent history. The castle was left in ruins following its destruction by Oliver Cromwell’s troops and later was restored. We were unable to tour inside the castle, but we did go inside St Mary’s Chapel, where Katherine Parr (1512-1548) the sixth and only SURVIVING wife of King Henry VIII, lay in rest in a marble tomb. Disappointed we could not enter the castle, we were rewarded with a tour of the most sumptuous array of gardens and trees I have ever seen. Each garden has its own name including The White Garden, The Victoria Kitchen Garden, The Wildflower Walk Garden, The Meadow Garden, an elaborate Knot Garden, in among beautiful old yew and mulberry trees and hedges.
Several other sites visited included Bourton-on-the-Water and the Cotswold Motoring Museum, housing mainly pre-war and some post-war English sports cars of all makes and models. Later we rode the historic steam trains of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway. The river Windrush bisects Bourton and is spanned by several classic low stone bridges and flanked by lush tree-shaded greens. This was a fun and relaxing excursion.
Our group consisted of twelve couples and ten adult children, but not all dwelled at the manor at the same time. Some couples stayed all week, some three or four days, while others filled in the remaining days. In all, we had a fabulous time site seeing, visiting and reminiscing about our lives in Japan, where we all originally had met, but like all good things, it ended seven days later. Many flew back to their home countries, but hubby Randy and I remained behind.
Having toured the picturesque Cotswold District, we decided to leave the area and veer north in our little Ford Focus rental car, and drove up to Cumbria in the Lake District for another ten days. I had read an article about the home and cottage of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), located in the village of Grasmere in the Windermere Lake District. We planed to visit there. Our first stop was Hawkshead, an ancient township going back to the Norse era, and checked in at the Tower Bank Arms, a quaint Bed & Breakfast that was formally a Public House (pub), recently owned by the National Trust and now privately owned and converted to a B&B and pub. Since it was still daylight, we ventured outdoors. To our surprise and delight, adjacent to us was the Hill Top House, home of Beatrix Potter, who wrote and illustrated the well-known children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The following morning we toured the Hill Top House and Gallery and learned about the life of Miss Potter, who was also a farmer, a conservationist as-well-as an author. When touring her famous garden, I was certain I saw a glimpse of the farmer Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit from his vegetable patch. Such an imagination have I.
Shortly after, we headed north a few miles to the village of Grasmere, where William Wordsworth lived in Dove Cottage from 1799 to 1808. At one time, it was a pub called The Dove and Olive and later converted to an inn. Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved in as tenants. Constructed in the early 17th century, the downstairs rooms were dark and gloomy-looking, with oak floors and walls wainscoted to the ceiling. Many of Wordsworth’s personal belonging are on display, including a painting of the family’s dog Pepper, a gift from Sir Walter Scott. Upstairs, a bright sun streamed through the windows, lifting the gloom emanated from below. Most of Wordsworth’s reading, writing, and entertaining his guests was conducted in a large pleasant sitting room. A long, wooden, cane-backed couch sat along the wall in the sitting room, where Wordsworth wrote his famous poem ‘The Daffodils’ in 1804.
I wondered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils…
For oft, when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood…
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
Interesting to note, although Queen Victoria bestowed the title of Poet Laureate to Wordsworth, he never wrote a single poem for his queen. In the guest bedroom, a painting of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) hung on the wall, a frequent visitor. Together, he and Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads, having started the Romantic Movement in poetry. I recalled reading ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ in my eight-grade literature class, never imagining I would one day visit the house where these men lived and worked. Later when we visited the Wordsworth Museum next door to the cottage, paintings of these famous poets were on display with attached earphones available to hear their poems. I closed my eyes as I listened to the sonorous voices and visualized that I was back in the 18th century smelling the daffodils and chills ran down my spine. Although it was getting late in the day, we still had time to visit Wordsworth’s final home, Rydal Mount House and Gardens, where he and his wife, Mary Hutchinson, their three surviving children, and his sister Dorothy lived until his death in 1850 at age eighty. Most of the furnishings are authentic, and the home is surrounded by four acres of gardens and has a fantastic view of Lake Windermere and Rydal Waters.
The next morning we headed for Ravenglass, near the Cumbrian coast of the Irish Sea to ride the Ravenglass and Eskdale miniature railway, also know to the locals as the “Lal Ratty”. This daunting drive up hill and down dale on narrow rock walled roads was rewarded by a train ride through beautiful green and brown rolling hills and fields of peacefully grazing sheep. The narrow gauge rail and rail cars were just wide enough for two people to sit abreast. We spent the night in the town of Windermere on the shore of Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England. The next day we drove to York and toured the National Railway Museum, the world’s largest. From there we visited the York Minster, started in 1220, and considered the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. As we stood and gazed at the beautiful stained glass windows, we became aware of sounds of a choir practicing and were soon drawn into the Evensong service. English “quires” never fail to amaze with their beautiful sound. The next day we spent several hours at the York Castle Museum, touring actual 18th century prison cells, British Civil War and World War II galleries, authentic costume collections and historic rooms and street scenes from early times. We walked the top of the ancient York city walls and gates and sampled pubs and restaurants. York is an exciting historical city, as is all of England.
Our departing time crept upon us. We drove south with an overnight stop at Leicester and motorway travel brought us to a hotel outside Heathrow Airport. The following morning we boarded our plane back to Los Angeles and San Diego. Despite the tales of heavy rains and flooding in the weeks before our arrival, the weather during our stay was sunny, clear, and cool, except for some drizzle on the day of our drive to Cumbria. We wore sweaters, but the Brits were in short sleeves and said that we had brought the only summer weather of the year. .This is our fifth trip to England, and we still amaze at her historic sites.