After a flurry of activity on the ranch which included putting the alfalfa up, turning cows out to pasture and working the spring calves, the day has arrived that Paul and I are winging our way to England. Even though we received an inch of rain, (after the guys finished with the last alfalfa field), Kansas is still suffering from drought in our area and we wonder if we will have much brome hay to harvest when we return from our European vacation.
The flight from Manhattan to Chicago to England goes off without a hitch for us. Our old jet out of Chicago is half empty due to bad weather in other parts of the U.S. so Paul and I can lie down in the middle seats and get some decent shuteye overnight. Joy, whose flight came in ahead of ours, is waiting for us as we walk into the common area of Heathrow.
The three of us wander around looking for the man Joy researched and then engaged him to drive us to Oxford plus guide us for two of the days we are in England. Even though we have arrived early, Joy decides to call Steve after we have waited twenty minutes, to find out when he will arrive. While talking on the phone to Steve, he asks Joy if she is wearing a yellow blouse! We burst out laughing as we look around and find a man sitting in a chair a few yards away, chatting with Joy on his cell phone.
Steve leads us to his van and we leave London behind, driving towards Oxford where Doris and Lois are already settled into the apartment that we will be staying at for the next few days. If you haven’t deduced for yourself, the Miller siblings and me, the fifth wheel, are meeting for a Miller sibling reunion. England was chosen because Doris is in a program where people swap houses with each other for the opportunity to visit other parts of the U.S or world. The owners of this apartment owed Doris a stay in their home, as they used her house in Boston in the past. Not only that, we also have the use of the apartment owners car. Many thanks to Doris for being willing to share her house swap with the rest of us as it sure will save us a lot of expense during our stay in England!
Our drive to Oxford, well the suburb of Summerville, is filled with lush scenery punctuated with interesting information from Steve. Riding in a vehicle that is traveling down the left side of the road is always disconcerting for me, but by the time we arrive at the brick apartment building, I am already adjusting to everything being backwards. We say goodbye to Steve and hello to Doris and Lois who show us to our rooms in the cozy apartment.
Once we have settled into our rooms, the five of us enjoy catching up a bit before we have lunch. After eating we decide to take a bus to Oxford and do some sightseeing in the center of town. Paul and I are the only ones that haven’t been to England before so all the massive stone buildings, (most of which are a part of the colleges that make up Oxford University), are new to us. The ancient structures are awe-inspiring, imposing, and humbling. The morning clouds have given way to sunshine this afternoon as we wander through the labyrinth of stone where gargoyles depicting every emotion, (grinning, snarling, and frowning) look down on us. These faces and fanciful figures are in my opinion on the creepy side. Another eye opener is the immense number of bicycles being ridden or parked along the streets.
The five of us decide to pay a small fee to climb up into the tower of a church and are rewarded with a 360 degree, Birdseye view of Oxford. The beautiful blue sky, filled with interesting cloud formations, accentuates the gray stone edifices and the sunshine makes the brilliant yellow, fields of rape seed (canola in the U.S.) glow in the distance. We carefully walk down the narrow, winding stairs to ground level and continue to wander around the square and beyond.
After several hours of walking and gawking, we catch the bus back to the apartment. Considering Paul, Joy, and I had a long day and night of travel, I’d say we held up pretty well today!
I wake up this morning to weak sunlight filtering through the drawn blinds in Paul and I’s bedroom. I’m amazed that I have slept through the night considering our time difference of six hours. I peek at the alarm and see that it is only 4:15 a.m.! What in the world…I get up, look outside and sure enough, despite the light cloud cover, the sun is definitely lighting up the horizon. I guess we are pretty far north but I never dreamed dawn arrived at this time of morning in England.
Steve arrives at 9:30 and we are off to explore the Cotswolds area. It is overcast and misty by now but the landscape we travel through is lush and verdant. We make several stops through the day, some of them planned and some spontaneous. Steve is peppered with questions over a wide variety of topics from us and none of them seem to stump him. Looks like Joy hit a home run with our chauffeur/day guide. By the way his company is SHO4 Tours. Clever.
We explore the ruins of Dovecote, the house of Minister Lovell Hall from the 18th century. Even in ruins you can imagine the grandeur of the place in its prime.
Touring through the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, we admire and walk through Arlington Row, a group of cottages that date back to the 1300’s, or at least the area was founded at that time. Can you even fathom buildings that date back that far? And we think our house built in the late 1800’s is old :). We enjoy the picturesque area despite the light rain that is falling intermittently. There is a lovely pair of swans with their six cygnets gracing a placid stream that flows next to the road. An occasional trout can be spotted in the clear water if you look closely. Paul finds an ice cream truck at the end of our circular walk and treats himself to a vanilla ice cream cone.
Moving on through the Cotswolds, we find the proverbial scene that one conjures up when thinking of the English countryside. A flock of sheep is grazing on a lush meadow. The field is lined with trees and neon yellow fields of canola are seen in the background. All of us ask to stop and take photos of the bucolic sight, and Steve gladly complies with our request. The sun is trying to peek out of the clouds which help we photographers as we try to do the peaceful scene justice with our cameras.
Our next stop is at the Chedworth Roman Villa and the five of us join a group of tourists led by a volunteer who explains the archeological digs of this ancient Roman ruin. If I recall correctly, the settlement was actually manned by the locals but answered to the Romans. I listen politely as we peruse various areas of the ruins such as the steam bath room, the hypocaust (an under floor heating system), etc. but my eyes wander to some colorful birds that are dining at a nearby bird feeder. A park bench sits tantalizingly near the feeder and since I know all the facts and theories being proffered by our knowledgeable volunteer will never stick in my head, I wander off to observe the bird feeder visitors.
Since I don’t have my bird book with me, I take photos of the few birds that are brave enough to feed with me sitting within a few feet of them, so I can identify them later. A pheasant in the meadow below the Roman Villa begins running in my direction then flies over the wooden fence that delineates the ruins from the field. I lose sight of the colorful game bird at the base of a small knoll. A woman comes out of the building behind me and begins shaking a sack that contains grain, while calling out a name. It isn’t until the pheasant bursts into sight that I realize she was calling to this pheasant. The bird is sprinting enthusiastically towards the sound of the grain sack, just as our cattle will run when we honk the pickup horn to alert them it is time for hay. I wish I could remember what the office worker called the wild pheasant, but I do remember that she told me she feeds the bird to reward it for surviving the hunting season!
Paul comes to inform me the tour is over and it is time to leave. We wind our way through narrow roads where perfectly laid stone walls outline the farmers’ fields. Paul is in his element among all the stone fences and buildings, and he is soaking every bit of the beauty of the stone structures up. We pass through quaint villages with equally quaint names such as Twin Brooks, Stow on the Wold, Upper and Lower Slaughter, and they look like something out of a fairy tale. Steve stops the car on a couple of occasions and lets us stroll through the streets of the village as he waits for us at the other end of the villages. The one odd thing we notice is that most of the places we drive or walk through seem to be deserted. I guess everyone is working and the children are all at school.
Steve takes us to St. Andrews Church in Naunton and we quietly walk through the fifteenth century church. There is a beautiful stone font inside the church that dates back to the 12th century I think. It is hard to get my mind around something that old. We leave the peaceful old church and start back to Oxford.
We make one last unscheduled stop to look at some Cotswolds Lion sheep grazing on the bright green grass. The strange-looking animals are curious and come to have a close up look at their spectators. How do these animals see where they are going? Evidently they are called Cotswold’s Lions because their ears resemble lions ears.
Steve delivers us back to the apartment in Summerviller and we all agree that the day was interesting and filled with beautiful sights. Later, Nancy