From Bourton-on-the-Hill to Longborough

Star Cottage, one of beautiful old buildings along Bourton-on-the-Hills high street.

The bus we ride to Moreton-in-Marsh passes through the village of Bourton-on-the-Hill on its way, and Brett and I had been wanting to get off there and spend some time exploring the village with its large manor house, stately church, and wonderfully preserved old buildings. Our host had also recommended the pub there, The Horse and Groom. Combined with several paths leading out of the village to various destinations we decided to make a day of it last week to not only check out the village but also walk over to another village, Longborough, by way of the Heart of England footpath.

What used to be old shops and other businesses along the high street have been converted into cottages for either full-time or vacation residences.
The old rectory
This booth appeared to still be functional!
One of the many awards the village of Bourton-on-the-Hill has received.

Bourton-on-the-Hill has received many awards, including one for “best kept village.” I’m sure there must have been new buildings in the village, but all we could find were old ones, all of them lovingly cared for.

Our first destination after getting off the bus in Bourton-on-the-Hill was Bourton House, a 16th-century manor house and estate (the current house dates from the 18th century however). The grounds not only contain the grand house but a brewhouse, coach barn, stables, and tithe barn along with a beautiful three-acre garden that is open to the public from April through October. We had debated walking over to see another manor house in the area, Sezincote, but decided to pay the admission to the Bourton House garden instead.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Suffice it to say that the garden visit was worth every penny we paid to enter (£14/$17.50). The entrance to the award-winning garden was through the large tithe barn, which contained not only the ticket table but a gift shop and tea house. Several tables were set up outside on the lawn, and the day was lovely enough that people were already enjoying tea outside, but the garden beckoned to us.

Every view in the garden was a delight for the eyes. Flowers were still in bloom throughout, and each area held something exquisite to admire, either from a distance or up close. It was not difficult at all to imagine characters from a Jane Austen novel walking through the grounds or carriages arriving up the drive for a party or a ball. We were especially impressed that the entire garden is maintained by just three people, a head gardener and two assistants. We easily spent 45 minutes there and could have stayed longer but we needed to climb back up the hill to the pub for some lunch before heading out on our hike.

The Horse and Groom sits at the top of the hill.
Besides serving delicious food, the pub also offers a boutique B&B for a stay in the village.

After a delicious lunch at The Horse and Groom (fish and chips for Brett, a stuffed pepper with spinach salad for me) we walked back down the hill a bit, then turned down a side street until coming to the Heart of England Way and headed out into the countryside. After clearing the village, the walk was primarily through lush green pastureland. Most of it was empty of animals but filled with huge, stately oak trees, but we pass a horse and of course some sheep and cows. The path was often difficult to find at times – only the faintest of footprints in the grass kept us going in the right direction.

A look back at Bourton-on-the-Hill as we headed out on the Heart of England Way.
Massive, stately oaks were found in almost every pasture.
Sometimes it was difficult to tell if we were still on the path or not . . .
. . . but eventually we would come across markers that let us know we were going the right way.
Beautiful country views could be enjoyed the entire walk.

We knew from the maps we had studied that Sezincote was in the area, and about half-way along our way to Longborough we spotted its dome peeking out through the trees. Then, after walking through a small stretch of woods and rounding a corner, there it was! Built in 1805, the neo-Mughal inspired manor is privately owned, but the house is open on Thursday and Friday afternoons for tours (May through September), and the Indian-styled gardens are open from January through October. We could see as we walked past that it would have taken quite an effort to walk there, and we were glad we had opted for the Bourton House gardens instead. It also looked as if some event was going to be taking place there (tents were set up outside and there were a few delivery trucks), so for all we knew the house wouldn’t even have been open at all that day.

We were rewarded with a spectacular view of Sezincote House, with its unique architecture and distinctive copper dome.

We finally reached the pretty little village of Longborough around 2:30 in the afternoon and headed for the village shop to get something cool to drink and to ask directions to the bus stop. When we arrived at the bus stop we discovered that 1) no bus stopped in the village that day, and 2) there was no time to either walk back to Bourton-on-the-Hill or on to Moreton-in-Marsh and catch a bus from those places. We went back to the shop to ask for the location of a payphone to call a taxi, but the shop attendant, Andrew, called a couple of taxi businesses for us only to discover that they were also booked for the next couple of hours (school runs). We were stranded. It was at that point that Andrew stepped up and offered to drive us over to Moreton-in-Marsh, an act of kindness we quickly accepted, and that cost us nothing more than a cold drink for Andrew from the refrigerator.

We were too tired and thirsty when we arrived in Longborough to do much of a visit, but we had walked for over four miles at that point.

All in all, it was a perfect day. We enjoyed gorgeous, warm weather, toured a gorgeous, lush garden, had a great lunch at a great pub, saw the stunning Sezincote manor house (from a distance), walked a good distance while enjoying beautiful scenery along the way, and were treated to a wonderful act of kindness that saved the day for us. We couldn’t have asked for more.


Afternoon Tea in Chipping Campden

The center of Chipping Campden, at the wool market and war memorial.

Something I dearly wanted to do here in England, and sooner rather than later, was to enjoy a full afternoon tea. The Cotswolds area abounds with tea houses (well, except there isn’t one in Blockley), so I did my research of where might be a good place to go, and chose the Badger Inn in nearby Chipping Campden. By having tea there we could kill two birds with one stone; that is, we could not only have a lovely tea but also explore the nearby market town.

Chipping Campden’s terraced high street.
This very large, beautiful old home was on the high street. It had two statues of dogs guarding the front door and two wings on either side, one of which supposedly held a ballroom on its ground floor.
We almost missed this small gate as we walked along, but it was the entrance to the beautiful Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden, opened in 1984.
The beautiful little sanctuary was formerly part of the old vicarage garden. Wilson was a well-known botanist who studied and collected plants from Asia, China in particular. Many of the plants and trees in the garden were donations from nurseries or other gardens throughout England.

The town of Chipping Campden has been around since the 14th century and served from the Middle Ages as a major wool trading center. The name “chipping” comes from old English, and means “market” or marketplace” (other famous chippings include Chipping Norton and Chipping Sodbury). The market town became known for its elegant, terraced high street, the imposing St. James church, and other buildings built by wealthy wool and silk merchants.

Chipping Campden is also known for being the early 20th century center for the Cotswolds Arts & Craft movement. The Guild of Handicraft was established here, and craftspeople still practice here. Near St. James, in the old Court Barn, is the Museum of Craft and Design, which showcases the work of current craftspeople and sells items made by local artisans (I bought a necklace here).

The most famous structure in town in the Market Hall, built in 1627, where wool sellers and merchants conducted business. The Hall sits in the center of town, next to the war memorial and town hall.
The original interior of the market hall with its uneven cobbled floors.
The starting point of Cotswolds Way, a 100-mile path from Chipping Campden to Bath, sits just outside the wool market. This plaque marks towns and villages along the way.
The Chipping Campden town hall sits opposite the market hall, on the other side of the war memorial.

St. James church sits on the east side of town and is considered one of the finest ‘wool churches’ in the area, built and expanded with funds donated by wealthy wool and silk merchants over the years. The church was first erected in the 12th century but enlarged beginning in the 13th century and continued for over 250 years, including the construction of the striking vertical west tower. The bells inside the tower date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The entrance gate to the remains of Campden House, built by wealthy silk merchant Sir Baptist Hicks (the major contributor to the expansion of St. James) sits next to St. James. The house was destroyed during the British Civil War, and all that is left today is this gate and two banqueting houses. The grounds were closed the day we visited.
The top of the East Banqueting House could be seen over the top of the stone wall.
Sir Baptist Hicks also built almshouses for the poor. These are located just down the street from the church, and have been converted into modern apartments.
Across from the almshouses is a wagon wash – muddy wagons and carriages were driven down into the wash, scrubbed off and then pulled back out.

And then it was time for tea . . . .

My huge afternoon tea! The dark orange pile next to the salad was a highlight: house-made carrot chutney, both spicy and smokey. I bought a jar to bring home.

Sadly, the Badger Inn turned out to be closed last Friday, but we had spotted the Bantam tea house just a short distance away and decided to try there instead. We discovered their prices to be a bit more reasonable, and I ordered a full tea (sandwiches, cake, and scones) and Brett more sensibly ordered two scones. I was expecting a lovely tiered tea tray to come out with some dainty items but I instead received two big plates loaded with four sandwiches (Cotswold ham and cheese), a large slice of lemon drizzle cake, and a huge raisin scone along with clotted cream and strawberry preserves! Brett’s two scones filled his whole plate. It was a massive amount of food for the two of us and we did our best to finish it all. Every bite was delicious but I ended up tucking half of the sandwich into my purse – I just couldn’t finish all of it (Brett had it for dinner).

We were lucky to enjoy beautiful weather on our visit to Chipping Campden, but the town was also blissfully uncrowded that day, allowing us to take our time and get a good look at things in town and not have to stand in a long line for our tea. As we waited for the bus back to Blockley we learned we had just missed taking part in a small, free walking tour, and think we might go back someday and do that to get some more in-depth knowledge of the town.

Out Into the Countryside

Looking out over the countryside from the back of the Blockley churchyard with the back of the Manor House to the right. The top of the hill in the distance was our destination on our walk.

We had a few days of wonderfully warm weather last week, so Brett and I set out on a couple of walks with a goal of getting out into the countryside. We had seen the markers in a couple of places for the Heart of England and the Monarch’s Way footpaths and wanted to see how and where those went, plus there was another path through the fields on the other side of town we wanted to try. (Warning: lots of pictures!)

We started our walk on Sunday afternoon heading up the high street away from the churchyard.
Almost all the houses and cottages in the village are named. Going by the color of the stone, this house was named appropriately.
We walked the footpath alongside Brockley Brook for a while. Several large, beautifully landscaped yards sloped down to the brook on the other side.
These row houses looked like where Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, or Anna and Mr. Bates, might have set up housekeeping after they were married.
We spotted this gravestone out in a pasture – Gilbert Adair was from Scotland and was a novelist, columnist, and film critic, but we still don’t know why he chose to be interred in a Blockley pasture.
Ring-necked pheasants were out in force as we walked along freshly harvested fields to the north – we must have seen at least 100 or more.
We finished our first day’s walk by coming down the Bell Bank – our cottage is just at the end of this lane to the right.
On our second day’s walk, we headed over to this signpost. The Heart of England Way and the Monarch’s Way share a path up to the top of the hill on the south side of the village where they then diverge. Both go to Moreton-in-Marsh and Chipping Campden but by different routes.
I remember learning about stiles in books my grandmother read to me when I was little and I finally got to experience one. This one was at the lower end of the pasture.
Up through the pasture we go! The footpath was barely visible and we had to be careful where we stepped.
Cows and sheep were grazing together in an adjacent pasture. All the land around the village is owned by just two families.
We’re almost to the top! We could see lots of the village, but lots of it is still hidden in the trees.
There is a second stile at the top of the pasture. From here, the Monarch’s Way goes straight ahead while the Heart of England path goes off to the left.
On the way down we discovered this spring bubbling out of the ground.
We hiked through grazing sheep both going up and coming down. They couldn’t have been less interested in us walkers if they tried.
Looking out over Blockley from near the top of the hill. Blockley is situated in the valley so that only parts of it can be seen at a time from any point. The paths through the fields on the far side are now off-limits as shooting season (pheasant & partridge) has begun.

We were thrilled to get out on these first walks as fall weather and rain will be arriving sooner rather than later. We did some more hiking through the fields to the north this past weekend, looking for the ruins of a medieval village wiped out during the black plague (we didn’t find them, but had a great walk otherwise) and this week, weather permitting, we hope to climb over the second stile at the top of the hill and continue on the Heart of England path all the way to Moreton-in-Marsh.

Market Day

Stalls selling just about everything you can think of line the high street on Market Day in Moreton-in-Marsh – it reminded us of a giant flea market.

Every Tuesday is Market Day in Moreton-in-Marsh. Over 200 vendors set up stalls up and down the high street, and shoppers can find everything from vegetables to cheese to bedroom slippers to cookware to linens and beyond.

We did our marketing at Aldi.
Heading away from the open market in the direction of Aldi, the high street was practically deserted.

Although we were curious about the market, Brett and I had a different reason for visiting Moreton-in-Marsh this past Tuesday: we were running out of food and wanted to restock our fridge and pantry for the week at the Aldi store there. I also wanted to visit the Cotswold Cheese Company and get a small piece or two of some British cheese(s). So, we caught the local bus in Blockey over to Moreton-in-Marsh with plans to walk to Aldi which is less than 10 minutes away from the bus stop on foot.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was that the town was filled with lots and lots and lots of

(Yes, there are even signs in town warning you to watch out for us)

Apparently, charter buses come from all over the countryside carrying retirees who want to shop at the Moreton-in-Marsh market, which is basically a giant flea market. We took one look at the market as we stepped off our bus, said “nope,” and turned the other direction and headed to Aldi.

Aldi shopping is still very new to us but it didn’t disappoint. We had felt just so-so about Aldi following our visit to the store in Strasbourg, but here I could have easily filled our trolley (cart) to the top with what we found. However, we restrained ourselves as we had brought only three shopping bags with us so that we didn’t overshop and get too much to fit into our tiny fridge. We shopped with a list but had loads of fun looking at everything else. The produce section was positively immense, and there was a huge selection of meats and other proteins as well as everything else you could think of (the store itself was massive). Our total spend came to £41.54, or $51.36, and if we can do that well every week with our food shopping we shouldn’t have any problem keeping our spending average at or below $35/day.

We got a LOT of food too for that $51 – those of you who are able to shop at Aldi are very, very fortunate. Below are all the items we purchased (minus a giant roll of paper towels):

Proteins: grated mozzarella, crustless quiche, chicken breast mini fillets, minted lamb burgers, half dozen eggs, and brie and manchego cheeses.
Vegetables: scallions, celery, a bag of organic carrots, two eggplants, tender stem broccoli, a cucumber, a package of Mediterranean vegetables for roasting, Asian stir-fry vegetables, and three onions.
Fruit: bananas, peaches, apples, figs, a package of raspberries, kiwi fruit, an avocado, and limes.
Miscellaneous: salted peanuts, 2 cans of whipped cream, porridge oats, tuna, green tea w/lemon, sweet & sour stir-fry sauce, butter, chocolate digestive biscuits, sticky toffee pudding (we had to), 2 jars of natural peanut butter, malt vinegar, pasta sauce, ground cinnamon, and curry powder

On the way back to the bus stop we stopped at the Cheese Company where sampled some cheeses and bought a small wedge of local Double Barrel Poacher cheese (very tasty!), and two small fruit cakes. We ended up waiting about 35 minutes for our bus back to Blockley, surrounded the whole time by crowds of retirees waiting for their giant charter buses to pick them up and whisk them out of town. A woman did come up to me to tell me she loved my accent!

I had always despised fruit cake, but I’ve sort of fallen in love with the ones here in England.

There is lots to see in Moreton-in-Marsh, and we are looking forward to returning for some more exploration, but we’ll skip Market Day next time.

There are lots of interesting things to see in Moreton-in-Marsh, but we’ll go back when the town isn’t crowded with market shoppers and giant buses.

First Walks Through Blockley

In the book I read this past summer about the Cotswolds (Slow Cotswolds: Including Bath, Stratford-on-Avon & Oxford by Caroline Mills), the author described Blockley as one of the best examples of a Cotswold village, from its variety of buildings to its church to the landscapes surrounding the village. Brett and I took two walks through the village (about two miles each) in two different directions last week to begin to get to know our home base for the next three months.

Looking out over Churchill Close, the town green, to hills and pastures for both cows and sheep. The dry-stone wall topped with stones set on their sides surrounds the common.
The cars on the street contrast with the massive size of this old elm tree in Churchill Close.
The Northwick Bowling Club sits in the center of Churchill Close, in the center of the village.
Many of the graves in the Blockley Church cemetery are hundreds of years old, and the stone worn to where nothing can be read. It’s not a museum though – newer, more recent graves exist as well.
The original church is Norman, built in 1180, and the bell tower at St. Peter and St. Paul Church was added in 1725. The bells are rung throughout the day, and on Thursday evening we had a nearly hour-long concert.
Blockley Church is open to the public and was far less austere inside than we imagined, with beautiful stained glass windows, statuary, and memorials to past residents of the area. The blue hymnals were a Christmas gift to the church in 2009. The light from the big windows (14th century) on the south side of the church light up the church nave during the day.
Down a winding lane off of the high street is the old mill, now converted into a private residence. The home includes quite a bit of protected land around it.
The Old Mill is adorned with several types of roses, and the scent was intoxicating as we walked by.
Slabbed wood on the gable of the Old Mill’s woodshed.
Blackberry vines along the roads were loaded with fruit, although the ripe berries we tried weren’t especially sweet. We’d love to go back and pick but are not sure whether the vines are on private property or not.
Brockley Brook runs through the town, although in some places it’s been covered over by roads.
Lower Terrace is a series of old connected apartment buildings built in 1851. They have been renovated and all look to be in use. I’m curious about what the low buildings between the larger apartment buildings were used for.
This house sported a (very accurate) sundial on the front of the house over the door.
What was formerly two attached homes has been converted into one large modern house. Yellow Cotswold stone (limestone) is a signature feature in the area as are stone or slate roofs.
Renovation of old buildings can be seen throughout the village. In some cases, an old house is torn down and the stone re-used to build a new house, but the yellow limestone is also still being quarried.
Another view of the hills from the Blockley Churchyard. From here it’s just a short distance to our cottage.

We have already fallen in love with our little village, with its “peaceful nature and beautiful buildings.” I know there are many other charming places in the Cotswolds, but I can’t think of a place I’d rather call home for the next few months.