After I left Cambridge, I made a pit stop at Bicester Village for some outlet shopping before continuing on to my next destination, but more on that later…
My journey continued in The Cotswolds. I knew that I wanted to try and find a hotel that embodied some of the character of the region if at all possible. After a lot of research, I found The Wood Norton. The majestic manor was once the base of the exiled Bourbon-d’Orleans family. During WWII, the BBC purchased the estate and moved their operations there, producing 1300 shows a week. While much of the property was sold off and eventually turned into a hotel, the BBC still has its Technical and Operational Training center on site. The building itself is fantastic, but the views were simply incredible.
When I was kid, I found a book of the complete works of Shakespeare on my Grandparents book shelves. It was old, the pages yellowed from time, the binding cracking, and had a publication date of 1940. I have no clue where it came from, I can only assume someone got the book shortly after they arrived in America; but that book was my first introduction to the bard. So when I saw that my hotel was less than 15 miles from Shakespeare’s home and birthplace, I knew it was going to be put onto my itinerary.
The drive only took about 25 minutes, however what I didn’t plan on was the Christmas festival taking place in Stratford-Upon-Avon the day I was there. What did that mean? Well, it took me an unplanned hour to park the car, and an additional 20 minutes to walk from the far away lot to the town center. The day was freezing, I already had some unplanned time loss, and I was definitely not getting the quaint shots of the town I was hoping for amidst all the hub bub and crowds – so I planned on making the most of my time. I started at Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The Shakespeare Trust encompasses 5 properties: Shakespeare’s Birthplace (the home he was born and raised in), Shakespeare’s New Place (the land where the grown up Shakespeare owned a home), Hall’s Croft (the home of his daughter), Mary Arden’s Farm (the farm and farmhouse that his mother grew up in), and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (the family home of his wife).
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is basically a step back in time to the mid 1500s. I’m not going to lie, there were people there who were quite literally on their knees, kissing the floor. Ignoring the zealots, the place is pretty much like a step back in time. After finishing my tour, I attempted to see the town – Chapel Street – in particular. Attempted was the proper word for it, the streets were packed with people there for the Christmas market and I was just to cold to fight my way through it. I got back into my car and drove to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. The land around the property is lovely, and I was assured at the ticket counter that it was just a mild 20 minute walk in the current weather conditions. Five minutes into my walk, my boots were covered in mud, and I realized that a “mild” walk to a Brit often included a lot of mucking about that I was not dressed appropriately for. I skipped a large chunk of the the walk of the grounds but the cottage itself was also quite lovely.
Shakespeare is credited with inventing over 1700 words that we use today, so it was only fitting that I learned the origins of a couple of words and phrases while there. “Sleep tight”: beds at the time didn’t come with box springs, they were made with a series of crossing ropes that had to be tightened every few nights to keep the bed firm. Curfew: homes at the time were built almost entirely from wood, so towns instituted laws that all fires must be put out at a certain time to prevent the whole town getting inflamed if a fight sparked out of control while people were sleeping. This law was called “couvrir le feu” which is French for cover the fire, and shortened by the brits of old to curfew. And ever heard of a “stop gap” measure? Well the ovens of the time were merely primitive pizza ovens over a fire. The opening in the front was called a “gap” and the wooden covering to keep the heat in, that was called a “stop”.
After Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, I moved on to Chipping Campden, a perfectly picturesque market town. It’s famed High Street has buildings dating from the 14th – 17th centuries. The town was charming, and I was able to park in the middle of town right next to the old market hall. It was a little late in the day, so I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked. If I hadn’t been turning into a giant Alana-shaped popsicle, I probably would have stuck around for longer – though it was probably a good thing I got on the road, since the sun set so early.
Next up was Broadway Tower. I had wanted to make my way to the town of Broadway too, but the shortened days didn’t really allow for that. The Tower sits on the highest point in The Cotswolds and provides so truly incredibly views. The highest point also meant something else though, it was so cold and windy, and there was snow on the ground. I bundled up as best I could to take advantage of the stunning sight. When I got there, the sun was just starting to go down. For those of you photo buffs, it was blue hour – that magic time of day when the sun is just past the horizon and the indirect light creates a blue haze. It made for an incredibly dramatic sight.
After that I headed back towards the hotel to grab a quick dinner in town. My plan had been to have an early night and early morning the next day. Once again my plans were thwarted. Over the night, it snowed – a lot, as much as 12 inches. That Sunday was reported as the coldest day in 7 years, and I was also informed that it had been the same 7 years since they had seen a snow accumulation like that. To say they weren’t prepared was an understatement. Flights were cancelled, roads impassible, schools closed, and a reported 14,000 cars broken down – and I was one of them. I had high hopes when I started the day. It wasn’t until 11:45 that I was plowed out of the hotel parking lot and able to hit the road. By 2pm I realized I was in trouble and I didn’t make it to my hotel in Oxford until 11:45pm. Lets just say it was a long day, and a story I’ll share on another post.
Even though I didn’t get to see any of these destinations, I had a pretty great route mapped out between where I was starting in Evesham to where I needed to be at night in Oxford. I’m going to list it below in case anyone is interested. All of my plans were what I referred to as “ATA”, or As Time Allows; basically, I made plans for my day and marked off the parts that were most important, as the day progressed I constantly looked at my itinerary and adjusted based on time.
Moreton on Marsh
Castle Combe is supposed to be one of the most beautiful towns in England, but since it was so far out of the way, I had to leave it off. Honestly, there were so many picturesque towns that I could have easily spent a week in The Cotswolds (if the weather was cooperating), and I fully plan to return one day soon and see spend plenty of time in the area – in summer, definitely in summer.