England part 3

England part 3

Gorgeous hey?

Gorgeous hey?

 

Today we are taking our second tour with Steve of Sho4 tours. Steve arrives at the designated pickup time but he is driving a different van. It seems that Steve’s’ van threw a belt yesterday and it is in the shop for repairs today. The problem with the van he has rented from a fellow tour operator is that there is no microphone to help those of us sitting in the back  hear Steve’s’ commentary. This van also has a backwards facing seat, so two people in our group will be looking out the back window on today’s tour. After discussing what the advantage of a backwards seat is among us and coming up with no good reason, we ask Steve about this arrangement. Steve tells us the facing seats are nicknamed businessmen seats as businessmen want to face each other and conduct business as they are being driven to airports, hotels or where ever. I guess that makes sense but it sure isn’t very convenient for people who are sightseeing!

Woodhenge

Woodhenge

Steve takes us to an area called Woodhenge and we walk among the squat stone pillars that mark where tall wooden poles originally stood. The site sits atop a grassy windswept hill, where lovely yellow flowers sway in the breeze. Steve points in the direction of Stonehenge, about two miles away, and tells us that some theorize that Woodhenge was built in relation to Stonehenge.

Woodhenge was discovered in 1925 when a pattern of dark circles were seen in an aerial photo. The archaeological workers determined that Woodhenge dates back to 2500 B.C. (if you can fathom that date). Workers also found pieces of pottery, stone tools, plus human and animal bones.

Once we are loaded in the van, Steve drives the back roads to Stonehenge to avoid the traffic congestion of the main highway to Stonehenge. Once the van is parked, we proceed to the entrance gate where Paul buys tickets for the five of us. Steve will wait in his van for our return. Each of us receives a telephone like device which is our electronic guide once we reach Stonehenge. We then load up on one of the many buses that are shuttling tourists to the World Heritage site.

Stonehenge a world heritage site.

Stonehenge a world heritage site.

After a few minutes we reach the famous Stonehenge and begin our self-guided tour. I must admit I was expecting Stonehenge to sprawl over a much larger area so I am taken aback to see the behemoth rocks quite crowded together on the hilltop. Tourists are not allowed to walk among the rock structures and a rope barrier encircles the site. This works quite well as sightseers are directed in a circle around Stonehenge, where they stop at numbered markers to listen to the information on their devices. The barrier is far enough back from Stonehenge that it keeps us tourists spread out and I am surprised at how many of my photos only show a few people  and amazingly a few of my photos are completely devoid of humans.

It appears we have the place all to ourselves.

It appears we have the place all to ourselves.

As I listen to my recorded guide I learn that Stonehenge evolved over thousands of years. Stonehenge is thought to have been a sacred site for natives beginning around the same time as Woodhenge and may have even had a similar structure out of wood at that time. The rock formations we are looking at today began to be built four or five thousand years ago. The largest stones that were planted upright weigh some 25 tons and are thought to have been brought from 20 miles away. How in the world did these people manage to move such massive rocks over rough terrain when they hadn’t invented the wheel yet?  Maybe a better question is why did they go to so much trouble? Nobody really knows but the theories abound, from aliens to a sacred cemetery. Well, if this is a cemetery those are the most gigantic headstones I’ve ever seen.

This rock sits alone many yards from Stonehenge

This rock sits alone many yards from Stonehenge

The Miller Siblings . The item Joy is holding in her hand is squid. If you have read past blogs you know about squid.

The Miller Siblings . The item Joy is holding in her hand is squid. If you have read past blogs you know about squid.

Paul and I beat the sisters back to the headquarters and go to the museum to look at the artifacts and exhibits. Because your entrance ticket also admits you to the museum, Paul and I make a quick tour of the small museum because Paul has everyone’s tickets! We exit the museum to wait for his sisters only to see them emerge from the museum. We find out later that they talked the woman who is checking tickets to let them in without their tickets! I never did find out who the smooth talker was.

As we are walking back to the van, a buzzing noise goes off and it appears to be coming from Lois. Everyone looks at Lois and we see what is making the buzzing sound, Lois is still carrying her electronic guide. Lois must feel that she is on trial as it seems we all ask her at once why she didn’t turn the device in. Lois pleads her case and tells us the person collecting the machines from tourists insists that the gadget belongs to our guide because there is no tag on it and refuses to take it from her. After hearing Lois’ alibi, we declare her innocent and Paul returns to the ticket area to give the machine back. Evidently someone just forgot to put a tag on the machine.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

DSCF8110Steve drives us to Salisbury Cathedral which is evidently the “must see” Cathedral in Great Britain. We arrive only to be told that we won’t be able to enter the interior of the cathedral because a memorial service is being held. This is a bit of a letdown. We are still able to see the beautiful cloister as we walk to the Magna Carta exhibit housed in the Chapter House. As we stand in line to see the old document, I marvel at the vaulted ceiling, the carvings and the stained glass windows, Chapter House. I can only imagine what the grandeur of the church must be like when this small room is so magnificent.

Looking through the walkways arches at the cloister

Looking through the walkways arches at the cloister

After lunch, which we eat at the cathedral cafeteria, Paul and I walk around the outside of Salisbury Cathedral. As you can imagine it is magnificent with all the carved stone, arches, flying buttresses (Paul pointed these out to me and told me the name of them) plus Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in England. I believe this, because my neck hurts when I bend back to look to the top of the spire. There is another reason I am studying the spire so intently though, Steve has informed us that a pair of peregrine falcons are nesting near the top of the spire and often the male can be seen perching or flying around the spire. I canvas the area with my binoculars but have no luck in seeing the small falcon.

The Salisbury Cathedrals' spire

The Salisbury Cathedrals’ spire

As we are walking back to the van, Paul and I hear someone clapping their hands loudly and giving short whistles. We look around and find that it is Steve. He sees that he has attracted our attention and points up at the sky. We look up just in time to see a peregrine falcon fly over us and then disappear quickly from sight. Man those birds can fly fast. Hurray, a great sendoff from Salisbury Cathedral.

Our last stop for the day is New Forest; an ironic name considering this place had its beginnings in 1079 when some Royal bigwig wanted a hunting area. I had hoped we would be able to take a hike here and do a little birding. However, we have driven a lot of miles and time is slipping away so our hike lasts about 20 minutes. I spend half of that time standing in one spot trying to get a look at some of the various birds that were singing, but I never could find any of the little buggers.

It is a pretty forest, though it is a bit odd to find giant redwoods that were brought from California growing in one section of the forest. As we drive out of the forest area and onto treeless plains above New Forest, we begin to see a scattering of horses and a few cattle grazing the grass. Steve had explained to us that anyone has the right to bring their animals here and let them graze for the summer, (perhaps that right is just for the people of this area). I did read that the practice to allow the residents to graze their animals in New Forest started back at the beginning of the park, in those times the residents were known as “commoners”! My own personal observation is that summer has barely begun and the grass already appears to be grubbed out. I also ask myself if you own a horse, isn’t summertime when you would ride that animal the most? Hmm.

Horses grazing in The New Forest area

Horses grazing in The New Forest area

Steve delivers us back to the apartment where he says goodbye to Doris, Lois, and Joy. Paul and I will see him again as Steve will be driving us to Luton airport early Wednesday morning for our flight to Romania. We all thank him for showing us some wonderful parts of England, taking us off the beaten track and being such an informative and fun guide.

Tonight we decide to order dinner in from an Indian restaurant which the owners of this apartment recommended to Doris. They have a menu in the kitchen from the restaurant and we place our order with Doris who calls in our requests. When the food arrives, I go downstairs with Doris to help her carry up the food. Doris hands the young man the money we owe him for the food, but the total turns out to be less than what we had calculated. I’m not sure how much extra money we ended up with, but Doris hands it to the polite young man and tells him “this is for you”. The smile that lights up this young fellows face when he accepts the tip money made we food fetchers grin too. I have a feeling getting a few extra pounds for delivering restaurant fare isn’t something that happens very often. The food was delicious by the way.

Preparing for our hike around North Leach

Preparing for our hike around North Leach

Today is Joy, Paul and my final day in England and to end this Miller reunion we are going for a hike around the village of North Leach. Lois takes the wheel of the car once more and we proceed without incident to the picturesque town of North Leach. Once Paul and I polish off the yummy roll we bought at the local bakery, the five of us, prepare to follow the directions for the trail described in the book “Short walks in the Cotswolds”, and we set off on the 4 mile hike.

Walking across the pasture

Walking across the pasture

Sunlight and shadows make for a dramatic scene

Sunlight and shadows make for a dramatic scene

DSCF8162We walk through North Leach, cross the highway and find the gate that gives us access to the pasture. We cross the lush pasture, pass through another gate which leads us into a field of some kind of grain that Paul and I are unable to identify. There is an actual path in the middle of this field for us to walk on! The vista is just breathtaking at this point as the canola field in the distance is half in shadow and half in sunlight and the yellow field is framed by the dark green of fields around it. As the book promises, the path leads us to the delightful settlement of Hampnet. After we take a few group photos on the inviting wooden bench, we visit the pretty church that sits in the middle of the dozen or so houses that make up Hampnet. I find it amazing that no matter how small the village, there always is a lovely stone church gracing them.

I really am on this trip. Paul and I in front of the Hampnet church

I really am on this trip. Paul and I in front of the Hampnet church

The interior of this church was very unique

The interior of this church was very unique

Paul and Doris exiting the stone church

Paul and Doris exiting the stone church

Once we leave the church Paul reads us the next set of directions from the book. Since Paul brought the book home I will copy the next paragraph of directions we are to follow word for word.”Leave the church and return down the track. Cross the river and turn left, uphill, at the junction. Pass through a gate halfway up the hill and go straight on at the road. Follow the right-hand field boundaries to the next road”. Did you get that?

Well actually we thought we did except we never saw a river on our way here. We go back the way we came, find a gate halfway up the hill, there is a road between two fields, and we continue hiking. The landscape unfolding behind us is just breathtaking and our cameras are put to use.  Following the next set of directions we turn left at the road, etc. until we cross the main road where we are to find the next path. Well we can’t find the darn footpath sign so we walk on in hopes that we just haven’t reached it yet.

My photo of Joy and Paul taking photos of this colorful scene

My photo of Joy and Paul taking photos of this colorful scene

We stroll by a stone fence that is being rebuilt and Paul can’t resist placing a few rocks on the fence. We continue walking but we are not finding the things described in the book like, “you will pass by farm buildings”. Oh nuts, looks like we are misplaced again. Joy suggested I should use the word misplaced instead of lost because In Joy’s words, more or less,” we know where we are, and we just are taking a different route that can lead to new discoveries, nice people and who knows what”. I like that philosophy!

Paul putting a few stones on the fence

Paul putting a few stones on the fence

We finally decide to walk along a wheat field that takes us back in the direction of North Leach, where we actually do end up walking through a farmstead, and then we come to the highway which leads us back to North Leach.

DSCF8218We have worked up an appetite so we have lunch at the Wheatsheaf Inn. The fish and chips I ordered were really good. Hey, I couldn’t leave England without having a meal of fish and chips.

After we have eaten we walk around North Leach looking at the old stone buildings and marveling once again at a few houses whose roofs’ are stone tiles. We have seen houses with stone tile roofs just about everywhere, even in Oxford, and it boggles my mind to think of the weight of a stone roof! We also visit the St. Peter and St. Paul church where a very friendly young woman is on hand to answer any questions you have. As with all the churches we have visited, this one is just gorgeous inside.

A roof made of stone tiles. Paul's photo

A roof made of stone tiles. Paul’s photo

St. Peter and St. Paul church in North Leach

St. Peter and St. Paul church in North Leach

Beautiful stained glass window in the church

Beautiful stained glass window in the church

DSCF8254Before leaving North Leach we visit the butcher shop out of curiosity plus they also sell cheese and we need more cheese for our cocktail hour this evening. As you might expect, the items for sale in this family run shop have different names than what you will find in the meat section of our stores in the states. To name a few of the products, there are Gammon hocks, Rolled breast (in the pork section), and Plain Streaky Bacon. Once the cheese purchase is completed, Paul and I go back to the bakery and buy a couple of more goodies for our early morning breakfast tomorrow.

 Part of the Meat case display

Part of the Meat case display

Buying cheese at the butcher shop

Buying cheese at the butcher shop

Joy makes a friend in North Leach

Joy makes a friend in North Leach

Lois drives us back to Oxford and this time we take the correct turn at the roundabout to get us to Summerville. Saturday we took the wrong exit on the roundabout and were misplaced for a while but eventually we made it back to our apartment:). We enjoy our cheese with wine, eat leftovers for dinner and watch another slide show of beautiful photos accompanied with interesting stories. Paul and I say goodbye to everyone tonight, as we are leaving very early for the airport, and it makes no sense for Doris, Lois, and Joy to get up to see us off at 5:30 a.m.

Today was a great way to end our stay in England. We were walking in beautiful surroundings, enjoying each other’s company, and eating good food. What more can you ask? So this ends our visit to England and tomorrow Paul and I will fly to Romania. Joy flies off to Africa later tomorrow, and in a couple of days Lois goes to Italy, while Doris makes her way to Spain. I told you this Miller family were die-hard travelers! Later, Nancy

Joy, Paul, Lois, Nancy, and Doris

Joy, Paul, Lois, Nancy, and Doris

Miller sisters in Hampnet

Miller sisters in Hampnet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

England part 2

ENGLAND PART 2

Another photo of our tour of the Cotswolds with Steve

Another photo of our tour of the Cotswolds with Steve

 

After our terrific day touring part of the Cotswalds, we relax with wine, cheese and crackers before enjoying spaghetti accompanied with wonderful bread purchased from a bakery in Burton. After our meal, we huddle around my little tablet to enjoy a slide show of photos from our last reunion in Cape Cod. In the evenings to come we will see wonderful photos and hear interesting stories of  Doris’ travels in Sri Lanka and India, Lois’ travels in India, and Joys’ extended stay in Paris this past year. Have I ever mentioned that I married into a family of avid travelers:)?

I reaffirm that sunrise does occur shortly after 4 a.m. in England, but this morning at least I am able to go back to sleep. We are up at six a.m. though since this morning Paul must be delivered to the Whitehill Quarry at nine a.m. to participate in the stone fence workshop he signed up for online. You read that right, Paul is going to learn the English version of the art of stone fence building. Pretty cool huh. We women are going to hike around Burford and explore that city for the day.

Unfortunately, it is raining this morning. Lois, who has volunteered to drive on our outing, could have done without this added challenge I’m sure. I know that Lois is used to driving in Boston but here Lois will be driving on the opposite side of the road in a car with a stick shift which means she will be shifting with her left hand in addition to driving in a strange city in a foreign country plus it’s raining! Lois’ faces all this adversity with a “can do” attitude!  Doris is the navigator and has programmed her phone with the name of the workshop site, in the assumption that the computer will lead us directly to our destination.

Lois drives us out of Oxford without incidence and we are off. After driving some way on a lightly traveled highway the phone navigates us in a direction that doesn’t feel right. We also haven’t seen any sign for Burford which is only a mile or two from where Paul is attending the stone fence workshop. The rain continues  intermittently as Lois navigates us through sleepy little villages on this beautiful road, which by now we all agree probably isn’t taking us where we need to be! Oddly enough, we drive by a new stone fence that is partially built but there is no one around nor is there a sign about a workshop being held here.

O.K. this was from yesterday too but similar scenes were seen on this drive

O.K. this was from yesterday too but similar scenes were seen on this drive

As we meander through the picturesque countryside the time is slipping away and it is obvious Paul won’t make it to the workshop by nine. Up ahead we see a sign to Burford and Lois turns onto the road. We drive through Burford and Paul uses his written directions from the workshop organizer to guide us to the quarry. Lois pulls the car into the entrance of Whitehill quarry around 9:30. A man welcomes us and informs us that the rain has delayed the start of the workshop so Paul hasn’t missed a thing. We leave Paul with the other students and we will return to pick him up later this afternoon.

DSCF7918Lois drives us back to Burford and the four of us decide to go to the bakery/café we purchased sandwiches, bread and breakfast rolls yesterday, to have a cup of tea in hopes that the light rain will soon end. The rain dwindles to a sprinkle now and then so our foursome; armed with a map describing walks around Burford we found at the visitor center, strike out on a hike that will lead us out of Burford, into the countryside and then circle back to Burford.

The unique thing about hiking in England is that all trails are marked with a sign proclaiming “footpath” with a painted, yellow arrow pointing out the direction of said path. If you want to follow a particular trail you must have a map/book which gives you directions like ” you will cross over a stile, walk until you reach another stile where you will now walk through a meadow, after walking by a small barn, cross another stile and walk across road into a farmstead, go up the farmyard drive, find the footpath marker on your right”. I kid you not. The trails we have hiked in the states are marked with the name of the trail, pointing out the direction you are to go in, and give you the distance to the next marker. This seems to be more efficient and easier to me but hey.  Well, we made it over stiles, through the meadow, up the driveway but we can find no footpath sign once we get to this point. We wander around peering into the farmers’ fields and hedges, making sure we haven’t missed the sign, and then we retrace our steps to the road by the meadow and decide to walk down the road. We end up in a village (or is it the outskirts of Burford?), where we find a footpath sign and decide to follow this track. The narrow, weed choked path is situated between two fields and after a short distance we end up amid several houses with no footpath sign in sight.  Good grief.

We made it through the meadow just fine!

We made it through the meadow just fine!

We walk by a house with banners hung in the yard identifying this home as a participant in the local arts celebration that is ongoing this week. The four of us walk in and study the paintings that the mother and daughter artists have on display.  We chat a bit with the family and mention that we have lost the circular trail we had hoped to hike. The man and woman suggest we take a trail they often trek to Burford and recite directions to us. And I paraphrase, “Go around two bends, up a steep hill(I missed this part), walk quite a ways then at the bottom of a hill you will find a footpath sign pointing to the right, eventually you will find a small church and more signage that will take you back to Burford.

We thank the couple, walk out the door, go around two corners, and come to a street that turns right. I am ready to walk down this street but my three companions relate the steep hill part of the directions to me, and straight ahead there is a steep hill so up the hill we go. We meet a man and woman walking towards us and inquire if we indeed are on the right track. They assure us we are and tell us that at the bottom of the next hill we will find the footpath sign.

Beautiful but smelly Canola field we walked along

Beautiful but smelly Canola field we walked along

We do find the sign, turn right and walk along a vivid yellow canola field. I discovered on our tour with Steve, who informed us that rape seed fields stink, that I have a reaction to the pollen the canola fields are producing. I walk the full length of the field holding my coat over my nose and mouth in hopes I can reduce the effects I had from this stinky stuff yesterday. Our quartet reaches a very tiny village or a farmstead and again finds ourselves disoriented. We do see the charming stone church called St. Oswold to our left but according to the directions we received we should have walked directly to the church. We find the answer to our misdirection just outside this cluster of buildings in that we have been following the bridal path sign which sports a blue arrow. Oh well, we are still in the right area.

The St. Oswold church of Widford

The St. Oswold church of Widford

Climbing over a stile into the pasture to walk to the church

Climbing over a stile into the pasture to walk to the church

Another view of the 13th century church as we walk towards it.

Another view of the 13th century church as we walk towards it.

We walk to the stone church as the clouds are beginning to break up, giving us a dramatic view of the isolated church. We enter the 13th century church and look over the interior. There are 14th century wall paintings seen on the walls in a couple of places plus some uncovered Roman mosaic to astonish the visitor, (o.k. I looked the dates up on the internet). This church still holds services and they leave the ancient church open to the public. They only posted rule I remember is one asking that you shut the door behind you. Amazing! Of course when we leave the church, the only footpath marker we find is definitely going the wrong direction to take us back to Burford.  We retrace our steps through the pasture and this time we are greeted by a friendly group of steers who decide they want a close up look at us interlopers.

The steers that come to greet us as we walk back through the pasture

The steers that come to greet us as we walk back through the pasture

Once we are back on the road, it isn’t long before we come upon another small cluster of houses. As we hesitate at a fork in the road, a young woman comes to the door and asks if we are walking to Burford. We tell her yes, and she points to our right and tells us we will find the footpath after walking a short distance. We thank her and walk in the direction she indicated.  We find the sign with the yellow arrow directing us off the road into a grassy field. This part of the trail is lovely, as it follows a lazy, meandering stream. We see a moorhen, some mallards and a pied wagtail so I particularly enjoy this part of our hike. We can see the spires of the church that dominates Burfords’ skyline, and although they are quite distant, at least we know we are headed in the right direction. Before long we reach the highway and soon are back in Burford.DSCF7896

We eat a late lunch and then we stroll the streets of Burford, looking into shops, taking photos, and doing a little grocery shopping. Doris and Lois purchase some cheese at Mrs. Bumbles of Burford, and we return to the bakery we stopped at yesterday so I can buy another lardy-lard cake for Paul and my breakfast. That really is the name of the roll, and as you can imagine it is very rich and heavy.

This sign made us laugh!

This sign made us laugh!

We spotted this security sign with this unfortunate name

We spotted this security sign with this unfortunate name

DSCF7904

Street scene in Burford

Street scene in Burford

Before you know it we must go pick Paul up at the quarry. We wait at the gated entrance and watch as people carrying various tools walk out of a tree line just beyond the gate. Soon Paul appears, carrying a couple of picks, and I can tell by his face that he has enjoyed his time at the workshop. Paul tells us they didn’t actually build any fence today, that will happen tomorrow and he won’t be attending, but he did learn some new things, including a way to organize the rocks before starting to build your fence.

Paul after a day at a stone fence workshop

Paul after a day at a stone fence workshop

We return to Summerville by early evening and everyone congratulates Lois on a job well done!  The rest of the gang decides to go out for supper to a pub in Oxford, but I opt out as I am worn out. The leftover shepherd’s pie is calling to me from the fridge and after I shower, I heat up a portion and enjoy every bite of the yummy dish. The Miller sibs return after I am in bed and by Paul’s report the food was good and they had a good time.

We enjoy a lazy Sunday morning, which is gloomy with clouds again. Paul, Lois and I go walk in the nearby park after we have eaten breakfast. We each take a turn at riding the zip line which makes us laugh out loud. We go by the smelly bird aviary which is overrun with parakeets, lovebirds and other exotic birds and I find this a bit depressing. We giggle at the miniature golf course, and sit on a bench by the duck pond to enjoy the swans, ducks and ducklings.

Paul enjoying the zipline

Paul enjoying the zipline

A swan setting on a nest at the duck pond

A swan setting on a nest at the duck pond

This afternoon we meet Ian, a guide I believe Doris arranged for us, who will give us a proper tour of Oxford.  He is a slender man, with twinkling eyes and a passion for the history of Oxford. Since, I have already talked about walking around Oxford; I am not going to spend a lot of time describing our tour. Needless to say, the man was full of information, spewing out ancient dates, names and all kinds of info about the origins of Oxford University and more.

Ian with a captive audience

Ian with a captive audience

I will tell you that I was admonished by Ian for standing on the grass in the yard of the college we toured. Was it New College? It seems that the colleges that make up Oxford University are in constant competition on who is the best in many different categories and that includes the state of their grass in the courtyards. I believe there are 30 plus colleges in the University. I will also relate to you, since I am a big Harry Potter fan, of both the books and movies, I was delighted to see the inside of the Bodleian Library which was the infirmary in the Potter movies. The building is beautiful by the way.  There is a cool bridge across one of the streets we walk and it is nicknamed the bridge of sighs, because it resembles the bridge of sighs in Venus. We also tour a huge church that has some fantastic stained glass windows and painted glass windows vividly depicting biblical scenes. Ian leads us to and explains many of the buildings in this part of Oxford but truthfully, most of the facts have long since evaporated from my brain!

Oh my gosh, I actually had the gall to stand on this grass!

Oh my gosh, I actually had the gall to stand on this grass!

The interior of the Bodleian Library

The interior of the Bodleian Library

The bridge of sighs whose real name is Hertford Bridge

The bridge of sighs whose real name is Hertford Bridge

At the end of our tour with Ian, we decide to have high tea. That sounds simple enough but it appears everyone in Oxford is having high tea and the cafes we walk into are filled to the brim with customers. We finally find a small cafe with a vacant table and here we order tea plus a snack. In my case I order a scone which resembles a thick biscuit. The tea and scone are very good but they should be because the price is quite high. All the food we purchased in England was high priced!

Paul checking out the old time red phone booth of England.

Paul checking out the old time red phone booth of England.

The five of us take our time walking through the streets as we make our way back to High Street to catch the bus to Summerville. Tonight we enjoy one of the slide shows of past travels I mentioned at the beginning of this blog and  we play a game of Apples to Apples. Another enjoyable day in England comes to an end.

Street scene in Oxford

Street scene in Oxford

One of the biblical scenes painted on glass in the church we toured with Ian

One of the biblical scenes depicted in the church we toured with Ian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

England part 1

Oxford England

Taken as we walked through a small village in the Cotswolds

Taken as we walked through a small village in the Cotswolds

 

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.

The Miller siblings seem to have the square all to themselves

The Miller siblings seem to have the square all to themselves

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.

A whole host of stone faces looking down on us

A whole host of stone faces looking down on us

Creepy

Creepy

One of the happier looking stone gargoyles

One of the happier looking stone gargoyles

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.

Fantastic view from church tower

Fantastic view from church tower

A nice touch of color in all the grey

A nice touch of color in all the grey

Looking another direction from the tower

Looking another direction from the tower

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.DSCF7808

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.

Rather ambiguous hours for visiting Dovecote!

Rather ambiguous hours for visiting Dovecote!

Our guide Steve and Joy at Dovecote ruins

Our guide Steve and Joy at Dovecote ruins

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.

Swan family near Arlington Row

Swan family near Arlington Row

Arlington Row cottages

Arlington Row cottages

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.

Pastoral scene

Pastoral scene

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.DSCF7712

The hypocaust area

The hypocaust area

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!

I hear the grain sack!

I hear the grain sack!

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

A robin who has some issues!

A robin who has some issues!

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.

Paul looking like a character out of Mary Poppins:)

Paul looking like a character out of Mary Poppins:)

A waterwheel in one of the villages we walked through

A waterwheel in one of the villages we walked through

Thatched roof seen on some houses in the various villages

Thatched roof seen on some houses in the various villages

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.

St. Andrews church

St. Andrews church

Doris and Steve checking out the 15th century stone font.

Doris and Steve checking out the 15th century stone font.

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.

Cotswolds Lion

Cotswolds Lion

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

The brilliance of the rape seed fields despite rainy skies

The brilliance of the rape seed fields despite rainy skies

Typical English garden

Typical English garden