London Calling

Near-constant rain was the backdrop of our London visit.

When we set out last Friday for London I wasn’t sure how I felt about going. I was excited about getting to see YaYu and spending time with her but also was somewhat dreading the logistics of navigating a new-to-us (very) large city, albeit an exciting one filled with lots to see and the potential for adventure.

On our way to London – that big cloud followed us the whole way.

Rain was the signature feature of our travel day. It was raining when we left Blockley and rained the entire way to London, with us getting soaked at the stations where we made transfers. We arrived on time though, and once we got to our hotel had a light dinner and went to bed early as we needed to be at Heathrow at 7:00 a.m. to meet YaYu’s flight. We almost arrived late for that though – we ordered a taxi in the morning and were told it would arrive at the hotel in approximately 10 minutes so we went back up to our room to get our bags. When we came back down another couple was finishing loading their bags into OUR taxi and off they went! So, a new taxi had to be called but it took its time getting to the hotel. We finally made it to Heathrow, went running to the arrival gate and just a couple of minutes later out came YaYu!

Our London Airbnb apartment was in the back attic of this terraced home.

From the airport we headed over to our Airbnb rental to drop off our bags – our host happened to be home that morning and said it was fine for us to check-in early. Our loft apartment, located in the attic of an older terraced home, was clean and modern, with a comfortable sofa bed for YaYu in the living room. It was a good thing though that YaYu and Brett can sleep through anything, and I was extremely thankful I had thought to bring earplugs along with me because one of the first things we noticed was that jets into Heathrow were coming in right over the house (apparently this happens only once or twice a year – lucky us).

And, just because I like to keep things interesting, on the way out of the station on the way to the house I had caught my foot on the steps and fell, jamming the big toe on my right foot (but otherwise OK). The pain was excruciating, but thankfully I could still walk.

After getting our bags put away, we set out for our afternoon walking tour in Notting Hill. It took a longer time than expected to get to our destination – our trip by bus and train there took nearly two hours because the double-decker bus from our location to the underground station was slowed down by road construction as well as being crowded and needing to make frequent stops.

One of the many interesting places we stopped at in Notting Hill. This regular-looking building is actually a very, very private hotel favored by celebrities. In September 1970 Jimi Hendrix overdosed on sleeping medication and died in the room under the window and behind the plants.
Arundel Lane in Notting Hill had the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed street in London during WWII. It was rebuilt after the war to look just as it did before its destruction.

We arrived on time in Notting Hill with minutes to spare, found our meeting place, and soon set off on what turned out to be a fun and very interesting two-hour tour. Our group was small (only eight of us) but the guide really knew the neighborhood and its history, and told interesting stories and showed the group where several celebrities had lived or currently owned homes, or where famous events had taken place. It rained steadily during the entire tour, but it was so interesting the time flew by. After finishing we went back to a small restaurant our guide had pointed out along the tour, Mike’s Cafe, which had recently been voted as having the best breakfast in London, and had a great (and affordable, for London) late lunch/early dinner there. Across the street was a gourmet doughnut shop filled with decadent choices, and we each chose one for our next morning’s breakfast. We arrived back to our apartment that evening feeling extremely tired – we had walked five miles that day! My toe was screaming, and when I finally got a look at it, it was double in size and sporting a huge, deep purple bruise, not a good sign.

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Little did we know when we got up on Sunday that we would be calling on all of our resourcefulness and ingenuity to get ourselves where we needed to be. We had tickets to visit the Tower of London, but getting there wasn’t going to be easy in the least. There was a large eco-demonstration going on in the city and the two train lines that would get us to the Tower were closed down (one for scheduled maintenance, it turned out). We made it as far as Covent Garden, London’s theater district, and then had to find a bus. Locating the bus stop however turned out to be a major challenge because so many streets were shut down by the demonstration. There were police stationed all over though and one finally helped us find the stop we needed. We had a long, long wait for the bus, under a big theater marquee, but eventually the bus showed up and off we went . . . or so we thought. Twice the bus made stops where everyone had to get off and climb on another bus! We eventually made it to the Tower, but the journey had taken us nearly three hours!

We spent a couple of hours exploring the Tower, including viewing the Crown Jewels (which were spectacular), then walked over to see the famous Tower Bridge. The rain was light when it did appear but mostly the day was only windy and cold. At the Tower Bridge Pier we caught a boat and took a wonderful ride down the Thames to Westminster Pier, enjoying views along the way of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and several other famous buildings. At Westminster Pier we sadly discovered Big Ben and many of the Parliament buildings were shrouded for major conservation work, so we didn’t hang around and instead walked over to Westminster Abbey. It was closed at the time we were there, but we enjoyed walking around the exterior and talking about the events we knew of that had occurred there (weddings, funerals, etc.). The Abbey was much larger than we thought; however, YaYu said that everything else we had seen was smaller than she had imagined, including the London Eye and Big Ben.

We had initially not planned on seeing Buckingham Palace but since we were so close we thought we should walk over and check it out before stopping for another late lunch/early dinner. From the Palace we walked over to Victoria Station Plaza to have another late lunch/early dinner at Wagamama and make a quick stop in Marks & Spencer for a few supplies. When we stepped outside after eating the first thing we noticed were blue skies and sunshine, giving us hope our final day in London might end up being a good one. Trains were running from Victoria Station so we had a fairly quick and easy trip getting back to our apartment. Once back we discovered we had walked five and a half miles that day – it was no wonder we all felt so tired! Thankfully when I woke up that morning the swelling in my toe had gone down and the pain had decreased as well so I had a better experience getting around than I thought I would.

My dinner selection at Wagamama, chicken & shrimp pad thai, was a risky choice – the last time I’d had it I broke my tooth. No problems this time though and it was delicious.
Westminster Cathedral (Catholic), across from Victoria Station. Sadly the blue skies and sunshine didn’t last long.

Because our behind-the-scenes tour on Monday for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace had been canceled (there was an official state event that day – the Queen went to Parliament to make a speech), we slept in a bit on Monday morning but woke to heavy rain (again) and howling winds. We also felt more tired than we imagined we would, and decided not to push ourselves to go out again but instead spend the day together resting up for our trip back to the Cotswolds the next day. We eventually got bored though and rode the bus down to a big commercial area next to the nearest train station, and got a few more things at Marks & Spencer and had dinner at an interesting and inexpensive fast food noodle shop. I had initially been disappointed that our tour that morning had been canceled, but we all ended up feeling thankful because the weather was not fit for anyone or anything to be out in. We came home from dinner, packed our bags for the next morning’s departure and enjoyed some hot chocolate and watched some TV.

This is the main reason I visit Marks & Spencer! Best. Cereal. Ever.

After three days in London we were eager to get back to the more quiet pace of our little Cotswolds village. I’m not sure our short time in London was enough to form any kind of honest opinion about the city, and while we enjoyed our Notting Hill tour and the sights we visited on Sunday, we mostly felt overwhelmed by the transportation issues, crowds, and exhaustion (and in my case, a foot injury). The miserable weather added to the feelings of too much in a strange city. However, we absolutely loved the diversity we encountered there, all the languages we heard spoken, the variety of ethnic restaurants and shops, and the kindness of almost all the people we met or encountered during our visit.

We’re off tomorrow morning to visit Oxford. We’re booked on a walking tour in the early afternoon, and then plan to stop at a pottery studio and store I have long wanted to visit before going to our B&B. On Friday morning we’ll tour the Ashmolean Museum before getting YaYu over to the station to catch the bust to Heathrow for her flight back to the U.S.

In Search of Thatched Cottages

As we arrived in Broad Campden, a thatched roof could be spotted on the right.

Before coming to England and spending time in Blockley nothing said “English country village” to me more than a thatched cottage. While there appears to be none in our village, we did spot a few of these cottages as we passed through the village of Broad Campden on our way to Chipping Campden a few weeks ago, so when we finally got a break in the weather this past week we headed over to check them out.

Although it is possible to walk from Blockley to Broad Campden via the Heart of England Way, because of all the recent rain there had been (and the resulting mud) we chose to go over to the village by bus, and then take a shorter walk between the two Campdens, and catch the bus home from Chipping Campden. If we’ve learned nothing else in the past two weeks it’s that the weather can change quickly here – a sunny day can suddenly turn cloudy, cold and rainy in a matter of a few minutes, and vice versa and we did not want to get stuck if rain appeared again.

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Broad Campden was an absolutely beautiful little village full of pretty homes and cottages, a small but lovely church, and a Quaker meeting house that’s been used since the mid-17th century. As my father and his family were/are Quakers, I was especially interested in seeing this place. Other than one pub, there are no other businesses in the village. We spent approximately an hour after we arrived walking through the village.

And yes, we did discover thatched cottages, several of them. All of them appeared to have been plucked from a storybook.

At noon we headed to Baker’s Arms pub for lunch. The pub has been operating since the 17th century and is one of the local pubs our host recommended we try. Brett ordered a tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread for his lunch, while I chose a traditional ploughman’s lunch, with ham, cheddar, beets, Branston pickle, pickled onions, salad, and bread. The lunch was once again huge, much more than I expected, and I did my best to finish as much as I could.

The Baker’s Arms sits in the middle of Broad Campden.
The pub has been open since the 17th century. Interior pub scenes in the Father Brown series are filmed here.
My ploughman’s lunch was extremely generous

As we finished up our lunches we looked out the window and noticed that what was blue sky when we arrived was now dark, heavy, and clouded and the wind had picked up. We quickly settled our bill and set out for Chipping Campden, hoping we could make it before rain arrived.

The Heart of England Way left Broad Campden on a small path squeezed between cottages.
On the way out of the village we passed a pasture with freshly shorn sheep . . .
. . . and then headed out across some fields to Chipping Campden, with rain threatening the entire way.
Thankfully, the clouds blew over and the sun returned by the time we arrived in town to catch our bus back to Blockley.

As we started over the fields the clouds began to spit on us, and we were sure we were going to end up arriving in Chipping Campden soaked to the skin. But, the clouds blew past us and by the time we arrived in town the sun was back out again, ending what was a lovely outing on a high note.

A Short Visit to Edinburgh – Part 2

The view from Greyfriers Kirkyard at night looked like a scene out of The Exorcist.

We were quite tired when we got back to our apartment on Wednesday following the Marvelous Medical Tour in the afternoon. Our ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar had perked us up a bit, but it felt good to put our feet up for a while before our last outing of the day, the two-hour Dark Side of Edinburgh tour.

We arrived back at the Grassmarket a little before 8:00 p.m. as our small group was forming and getting to know each other. Our guide, Rhona, chatted with us all for a few minutes and then said “Let’s get started,” immediately transforming herself into the character of “Madame McKinnon,” a bawdy former brothel owner who had been hanged for the murder of three customers back in the day. She stayed in character throughout the tour – it was quite amazing and entertaining, but she knew her history and kept us interested (and scared us a few times too) throughout the entire tour.

It was flat out creepy walking through the cemetery at night, and our guide had plenty of scary stories to go with the experience.
The George Heriot School for Boys, just outside the Kirkyard, had a bit of an unsavory past. The school building was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
Our group stopped for yet another creepy story from Edinburgh’s past in an old close (alleyway).

Rhona took us through the Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) in the dark, something I never thought I’d do (and enjoy), and we walked through alleys and other areas in Old Town Edinburgh that are said to be haunted. She had all sorts of stories and interesting facts about graverobbers, devil worshipers, sadists, and other unsavory characters including some of the places where we had walked during our earlier tour and on our own (Grassmarket, for example, hosted not only a market but well-attended public hangings as well). It was a fun and fascinating tour, and Brett and I totally forgot how tired we had been before it started. The two hours were over before we knew it.

Greyfriars Kirkyard was almost benign during the day. Several of the names J.K. Rowling used in the Harry Potter book came from graves in the cemetery (like Tom Riddle and Professor McGonagall).

We had one last tour to go on our last day in Edinburgh, a history lover’s tour of the Old Town. While our first two days had been sunny and pleasant, on Thursday the temperature had dropped by nearly 15 degrees and it had turned quite windy – not very pleasant weather for being outside. But, we kept reminding ourselves, at least it wasn’t raining. We started out a bit worried that this tour would be overkill, repeating some of the information we had learned on the tours we took the day before.

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We needn’t have worried; our final tour turned out to be the most interesting of all and although we visited some of the same places (we made a third trip into to Greyfriars Kirkyard and took our fifth walk down Victoria Street) we heard all sorts of new information about the places we’d been earlier and also went to many hidden places we had not seen before. Besides having a great sense of humor, our guide, Gains, also has a Ph.D. in Scottish history and was able to go into depth and help us put things together and make more sense of the history we were seeing and hearing. At the end of our tour, he offered each of us a small cup of whiskey (which I still don’t care for) before saying goodbye. Slàinte!

The Caledonia Hotel, Grande Dame of Edinburgh lodgings.
We enjoy not only our wine but the cozy chairs and warmth at the Caly Bar.

After the tour Brett and I walked over to the Caledonia Hotel, open since 1833 and now operated by Waldorf Astoria. Our goal was to 1) get warm, and 2) enjoy a drink in the Caly Bar, where our favorite fictional detective, John Rebus, sometimes met for a drink with “Big Ger” Cafferty, Edinburgh’s top gangster. The bar was posh and warm, and we each enjoyed a big glass of wine and watched what was going on out the window – the experience was everything we had hoped for.

The North Sea was dark and gray as we passed by on our way back to London.
We passed street after street after street of row houses as the train sped through Newcastle – some were new but most were old.

And then it was Friday and time to head back to Blockley. We went to bed Thursday night convinced we would be walking over to the station in the pouring rain (unless we got lucky enough to flag down a taxi), but wonder of wonders, the rain stopped as we left the apartment. We took a final walk up The Bow and walked a bit down the high street once more before turning left down Fleshmarket Close to the station (one of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus books is Fleshmarket Alley so this was a special treat for us). Our train left Edinburgh right at 10:00 a.m. and pulled into Kings Cross on time at 2:39. After that things fell apart though. Trains from St. Pancras were not on any sort of schedule, not that it mattered because any train departing from there left the station after our train out of Reading Station was scheduled to depart! We eventually got ourselves to Reading, and on to Moreton-in-Marsh, and a kind young couple from London offered to share their cab with us and we got home to Blockley a little after 8:00 p.m., exhausted but filled with wonderful memories of our time in Edinburgh.

All three of the great walking tours we took were booked through Airbnb Experiences, and the total cost for all three was $92, a bargain considering all we saw and learned. The tours were a fantastic way to get acquainted with Edinburgh and its deep history. The Distillery tour was booked online with Edinburgh Gin and cost £10/$12.25 each. It was also money well spent. If we’d had at least one more day we would have checked out the New Town (which is actually more than 250 years old!) and gone over to Leith to tour the former royal yacht, Britannia.

Yes, I rubbed the dog’s nose – maybe that’s why it didn’t rain during our time in Edinburgh.

*** We waited for our first tour by the famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby. All three of our guides, all from Edinburgh, were not particularly fans of the dog’s legend, and all the said the “custom” of rubbing the dog’s nose for luck was less than five years old, invented by a creative tour guide one day!

A Short Visit to Edinburgh – Part 1

Edinburgh skyline

How much can you see and do in an old, historically significant city on a three-day visit? Quite a bit, it turns out. We decided before we left that the best way for us to experience as much of the city of Edinburgh as we could was to take some small-group walking tours with local experts, so we signed up for three different, short tours as well as a distillery tour. While we left Edinburgh at the end of our stay feeling tired, we learned and saw more than we imagined while we were there, far more than we ever could have figured out on our own.

The big, old stations in the north of England, like this one in Darlington, have been modernized, but retain many of their original features such as wide, arching glass roofs and decorative iron pillars.

The train ride up to Scotland from the Cotswolds was long (10 hours, on four different trains), and we arrived to rain in Edinburgh. The signage in Waverly Station was only mildly helpful at best but we eventually found our way out of the station to the taxi stand and had a short ride over to our small, but cozy apartment. After getting ourselves checked in, we headed down the street to a small Indian restaurant that our taxi driver had recommended. I had lamb korma, Brett got a chicken biryani and we shared an order of garlic naan as each piece was the size of a large dinner plate. We were almost too tired to eat but managed to get half of our orders eaten and brought the rest back to the apartment for dinner the next night. Our one concern with the apartment was that the bed might be too soft, but both of us fell asleep quickly and slept soundly that (and every) night.

Cobblestone streets were the norm in much of Old Town Edinburgh.
Small covered lanes or closes (alleys) ran between larger streets in the city.
Edinburgh is a very old city, and beyond its castles, streets, and famous buildings its age and history can be found in the smallest of places. We had no idea what this place had been, with the words currently just a few feet above street level.

The taxi driver had said the weather would be good for the next couple of days after our arrival, but we woke up to gray, cloudy skies again. The rain had stopped however, so after breakfast (yogurt and oatmeal provided by our host) Brett and I set out to visit the city’s main attraction, Edinburgh Castle. Located only a 10-minute walk away from our apartment, we still had to contend with cobblestones, hills, and many stairs to reach the entrance. Blue skies were poking through as we arrived and before we knew it the clouds were mostly gone. For the rest of the day we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine.

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We spent over two hours touring the castle grounds and the Great Hall, and went up into the Royal Apartments where Scotland’s crown jewels can be viewed (while not quite as stunning as England’s Crown Jewels, Scotland’s are quite beautiful and considerably older). Also on view was the stone seat where Scotland’s kings and queens were crowned. Overall, the castle and grounds were magnificent as were the views from the castle, and our visit was well worth the price of admission. There was also a nice cafe inside the castle as well as a tea house and whiskey tasting room, and we opted to stay and have an affordable lunch at the cafe before heading down the Royal Mile (or High Street).

Kilts and bagpipes on the Royal Mile
St. Giles Cathedral
There was more cashmere for sale than can be imagined. Prices were consistent from shop to shop as well so it didn’t matter much which store you chose for your shopping.
I wanted the dress MacDonald tartan as I’m descended from the clan, but although I looked in more shops than I can count no one had it or anything close.

After lunch, we took a stroll down the high street toward Holyrood Castle, where members of the royal family stay when visiting Scotland. We wanted to get a cashmere scarf for each of us, and we were also looking for a shop that carried some of the best shortbread in Edinburgh. The amount of cashmere available on the high street was frankly overwhelming, with practically every other shop on each side of the street selling it in some form or another. Shop walls were lined with shelves holding scarves and sweaters, and there were often large tables set up, covered with even more scarves in every color and pattern imaginable. I was looking for a particular tartan – dress MacDonald – as my maternal grandmother’s family came to America from Scotland and belonged to the MacDonald clan. Brett and I eventually decided to stop in a shop called Marchbrae (we liked the name) and after nearly going out of our minds because of all the choices we eventually found scarves that we liked (it turned out that not one store carried anything in the dress MacDonald tartan, let alone a scarf). Leaving Marchbrae with our scarves, we walked further down the street to Cranachan & Crowdie to check out the shortbread. The store had samples available and we ended up buying ourselves a small tin of orange shortbread with chocolate chips. Let’s just say that real, small-batch shortbread tastes 100x better than Walkers, which is pretty good stuff.

Looking back up The Bow (Victoria Street). Lined with small, unusual shops, the street was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.

At that point, we had a choice between continuing down to Holyrood Castle or heading back to our apartment, and as we were both still quite tired we decided to go back and rest up for the next day, our “Day of Tours,” with three different tours scheduled. The walk back to the apartment was lovely, and we got a lovely surprise when the route we went took us down Victoria Street (“the Bow”) to the Grassmarket. From there it was just a few more minutes to our apartment. We were surprised to discover that evening we had walked over four miles and taken 10,000 steps. No wonder we felt so tired!

One of three stills at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery – this one is named Flora, and she was busy creating a batch of specialty gin the day we visited (it can be seen boiling through the porthole).
Edinburgh Gin produces seven varieties of gin and seven gin-based liqueurs. They also still distill two varieties of whiskey – the earnings from the whiskey is what allowed the owners to begin making gin.
At the end of the tour we were served a tasty gin & tonic, and also got to sample some elderflower gin.

The next morning we were up early for our first tour of the day, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, located in the opposite direction from the castle, near the historic Caledonia Hotel. Our small group started with a presentation on the history of gin in Scotland followed by a talk about how gin was made. We were allowed to smell and taste some of the various botanicals used in the making of gin and learned that without the inclusion of juniper and possibly other botanicals gin is basically not very good vodka. Afterward, we went in to view two of the distillery’s three small-batch stills close up and then were treated to a sample of one of Edinburgh Gin’s varieties (elderflower, I think) and a gin & tonic made with their standard dry gin. Because we had been on the tour we received a discount at the gift shop and Brett and I chose a bottle of Seaside Gin, their most popular variety, infused with not only juniper but seaweed and plants foraged from the Scottish coast. It is delicious.

Chicken and mushroom pie for lunch at the Mitre pub on the high street. Brett chose a trio of mini pies for his lunch. The delicious, flaky crust on my pie was the best I’ve ever had anywhere.

Before we went to our second tour of the day we walked back to the high street and had lunch at the Mitre pub. We both wanted to try their meat pies which were reasonably priced (£12/$14.75) and came with mashed potatoes and gravy and vegetables. Both our orders were delicious and filling, and we left lunch feeling satisfied and ready to take on our next tour. The Marvelous Medical Tour took place on the city’s southside and covered Edinburgh’s heyday as the center of medicine in the English-speaking world. We were the only people signed up for the tour that day, and besides learning about the many medical techniques that came out of Edinburgh and getting to see a part of the city often missed by visitors, we also heard all about all sorts of things from grave robbers to the real-life Sherlock Holmes to chloroform parties to plague doctors and more. Our guide really knew his stuff, it was all interesting, and we had a great time.

The “new” medical college is only a couple of hundred years old. Medical students at the University of Edinburgh still take their anatomy classes here.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lodging while he was a medical student in Edinburgh. His professor, Dr. Bell, was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.
The old surgical hospital is still used by the university today, but not for surgery. Innovations such as using chloroform for anesthesia and techniques for disinfecting wounds and surgical tools were developed here.
The Old College is no longer part of the medical school but is used by other university departments these days. Charles Darwin studied medicine here but decided he did not want to be a doctor.

We had a few hours between that tour and our final tour of the day, which actually was going to take place at night, so we walked back to our apartment to rest for a couple of hours with a stop for ice cream on the way at Mary’s Milk Bar, a cute shop in the Grassmarket selling sweets and artisanal ice creams and gelato. Unusual for us, we both chose the same flavor of ice cream, fig with honey, a delicious treat.

Later, just before the sun went down we headed back out once again, this time to learn about Edinburgh’s dark history . . . .

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.

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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.

How We Do This

This past summer, some friends asked us for a blueprint of how we were able to set up our current nomadic life, and how we sustain it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor will we be the last, and how we are doing this is definitely not the only way. We have met other nomadic couples along the way, and every one of them is doing long-term travel differently from us and funding it differently as well. Our inspiration came from Michael and Debbie Campbell, the original Senior Nomads, but everyone who has committed to a big travel adventure is doing what works for their energy level, bucket list, and budget.

Our current lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would soon be off to college and we were eager to hit the road on our own and go somewhere we hadn’t been before. As we were discussing different locations, Brett said, “I wish we could see them all.” We both stopped immediately, looked at each other, and at the same time asked, “Could we do that?” We spent the next few weeks talking about the possibility and crunching numbers and eventually figured out that by saving every extra penny we could, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and giving up our life in Hawai’i we could make our travel dream happen.

Many people assume that because we travel full time we must have a large retirement income but that isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it’s possible to travel full time on our income as well as cover our expenses with careful planning, no debt other than my student loan, and an ability to stick to a budget. Our situation was somewhat unique in that we didn’t own a home when we started and up until this year our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded to pay their own college expenses. However, homeowners like the Senior Nomads were initially still sold all their stuff and rented the house while they traveled, and we could have done the same. Because our income comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (he also receives a small pension from his last employment) – it’s the same from month to month. We just had to figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled, covering our travel expenses and a couple of fixed payments, and still get our college-aged children to and from places. We have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we don’t take money from our savings. However, instead of paying for utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we use our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.

Our current lifestyle works from two different directions: we carefully plan ahead and we have a budget and stick to it. For almost a year and a half before we set off on our Big Adventure, we saved as much as we could to cover as many up-front travel expenses as possible, like our train journey across Australia and our tour in India, and as many flights, Airbnb reservations and other expenses as we could. That got us started and we’ve been able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we receive each month as we’ve gone along.

Planning ahead for where we want to go and what we want to do gives us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing is left to chance and there’s very little to no spontaneity involved when it comes to these big decisions. And, once we commit, we are committed – there’s no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we’d lose quite a bit of money if we do. We still put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.

Because our monthly income doesn’t change from month-to-month or isn’t dependent on outside variables – the only fixed bills we have are my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month – the amount we have in disposable income doesn’t vary. This amount covers everything outside of lodging and long-distance transportation costs, things like groceries and dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintains a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we’re doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit. We’ve had to adjust that amount this past month and lower our daily spending average because we want to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We are also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, because we have it we don’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our main credit card benefits cover most of the other travel insurance items, such as canceled flights, lost luggage, etc.

We initially thought a year or so of full-time travel would be enough, and afterwards we’d be ready to settle down somewhere, but we’ve found the longer we travel, the more we want to continue. We’re having a much better time than we imagined, and have learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we prefer longer stays of at least a month in a location versus moving every few days or even every couple of weeks – we tried that and it was exhausting – and that longer stays usually provide a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We’ve worked it out where we get together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spend time in Japan with our son and his family. We’ve made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do long-term travel. How one accomplishes it or adapts to it is completely customizable according to one’s own circumstances, financial and otherwise. We’ve been flying from place to place, but have met others that are doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some are pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we’ve met housesit and others have kept their homes but do house swaps. The one thing everyone seems to have in common is living within their means and living with minimal possessions, and prioritizing experiences rather than having things to show.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. 

Although the lifestyle is not for everybody, if you’ve ever dreamt of trying out the nomadic life for a while, I firmly believe a way can be found to make it happen in a way that works for each person or couple or even family. All that’s needed is imagination and the courage to take the first step.

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.

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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.