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My guidebook said it was less than a half an hour by car from Chipping Campden, and that proved to be the case that early Monday evening getting to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. The roads were well-marked and since Stratford is the largest community in the area, it was on every crossroads’ sign.
With my trusty map of the city in hand, I knew where to tell Dave to turn to land us at the parking lot closest to the new 2011 state-of-the-art theater. We asked someone on a street corner which way to walk to the theater, and she pointed and said, “It’s right down there.” It was in plain view, maybe a block or so away, and looked like a very modern, big structure. We had a delightful walk right along the River Avon to the theater.
We quickly got our tickets, reserved by phone previously, and since I had hoped to dine in their restaurant on the top floor (the Queen has dined there), that’s where we headed, after stopping for a few minutes in the gift shop to pick up a small gift for my Shakespeare-loving friend. But alas, no tables were available—seems they are heavily reserved in advance. What did we know— we were just tourists? So, we opted to eat in their casual cafe, but that wasn’t all bad because it is next to a terrace that overlooks the river, and I loved seeing the swans and the people on the other side of the river, many with dogs off-leash and enjoying a romp along in the lovely green park area. It was a very idealistic scene, and I decided that was a city in which I would enjoy living.
When we took our seats in the theatre, the woman next to me introduced herself. She was with a group of nurses from New Jersey visiting a hospital in a nearby city. When I told her where we were from, she said, “My uncle retired to Oroville, Calif. two years ago.” Talk about a small world! We don’t know her uncle, but we may well look him up.
We loved seeing “The Comedy of Errors” that night—’twas very well performed. The actors did an outstanding job, living up to the Company’s reputation. The original theater was built in 1879 to honor the Bard, but it burned down in 1926. Part of what we see today was built in 1932, but it was redone in 2011 and has a thrust-out stage—there is not a bad seat in the house!
After the performance, it was a short walk back to our car, and soon we were back on the road to Chipping Campden. It occurred to me at some point that we’d gone further, than when we had our last turn going to Stratford, and I mentioned that to Dave. And we had. Chipping Campden is a small village and was not on the first sign where we should have turned. (Another larger city beyond it was on that sign.) Soon we saw a sign that I was pretty sure would work, and we turned there. That road did, indeed, get us back to Chipping Campden, and it was only a few minutes longer than our trip getting to Stratford.
Since we needed to reserve a room for the following night, near Heathrow Airport, we stopped in our room and Dave grabbed his laptop, which we took to the lounge at our quaint, 600-yr. old hotel. We had a nightcap and hors d’oeuvres there, while Dave secured reservation at Ibis Hotel, in the Heathrow Airport area.
A good night’s rest and after another hearty breakfast at the Noel Arms, we were off the next morning to drive through more of the enchanting, tiny Cotswolds villages on our way back to London. Broad Campden, very near Chipping Campden has a score of lovely thatched-roof cottages, but no place to easily park and take a photo, when there’s a car right behind you, and narrow streets with parked cars into one of the lanes.
Blockley, which is located higher in the hills, was the next village we drove through, and it is a popular location for films. But again, no easy place to park, plus Dave is thinking, “We need to be back in London by tonight.” Next we drove through Bourton-on-the Hill. That part of that day’s drive was more “driving through a fairytale.” Absolutely gorgeous scenery! (I don’t know why, but I absolutely loved seeing the sheep in the meadows around nearly every bend in the road.)
From there we drove from Gloucestershire into the Oxfordshire Cotswolds—larger towns. We stopped in one with me trying to find a sheep magnet, the only souvenir I wanted from this trip. I had no luck ‘cause we were then on the outer edge of the Cotswolds (few fields of sheep). But the folks here sent me to a few shops that they thought might have those, and at one point Dave and I got separated, and he took a photo of an English post box (mail box) with me wandering down the street, in the opposite direction, looking for him.
It was onward to Blenheim Palace, the accidental birthplace of Winston Churchill. In 1704, John Churchill (first Duke of Marlborough) defeated Louis XIV’s French forces at the Battle of Blenheim, and Queen Anne rewarded him by having architect John Vanbrugh build this palace for him. It is considered by many to be the finest Baroque building in England. It sits on 2,000 acres, and the extensive gardens were designed by “Capability” Brown.
In 1874, a later John Churchill’s daughter-in-law was at a party here when she went into premature labor and birthed a son, Winston, who later led his country through WWII. There is a “Churchill’s Destiny” exhibit near the main entrance to the palace that explores the military leadership of both John, for whom the palace was built, and Winston, who won the Battle of Britain and helped defeat Hitler.
My guidebook said that you could easily enjoy most of a day here, but two hours was the least amount of time, one should spend. Since we needed to get back to Heathrow that day, we didn’t feel that we had two hours to tour here, and hated to spend the $65 for just a half an hour or so. Thus, we only took a few photos at the main gate, and then drove into the town of Woodstock. We inquired in a pub about lunch, but they weren’t serving; so, we drove on toward Oxford, less than 30 miles down the road.
Oxford started as a community and was named where oxen crossed (forded) the Thames (then called Isis) and the Cherwell rivers. Its famous university, dating back to 1167, is actually 38 self-funded colleges. Its well-known literary graduates include J. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, Lewis Carroll, A. Huxley, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot, and Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), among others. Scientist Stephen Hawking attended Oxford, as did India’s Indira Gandhi, plus two dozen English prime ministers, including David Cameron, the current prime minister.
We parked on a side street and walked past some of the college buildings, before finding our way to an eatery called Four Candles, where we had lunch. It was fun to walk the sidewalks there and feel the energy of the students. I do believe that university communities have a pulse that you can actually feel.
Once back on the road, we were headed for our Heathrow area hotel. When we had left London by cab four days earlier and picked up our rental car, we had looked at the various lodging available on that section of road and chose the Ibis; so, we had a general idea of where it was located (on a very busy road, of course). But we found it with little trouble, despite heavy traffic, and checked in. Our room was small, but workable for us. Dave decided to do a “practice run” re: returning our rental car the next morning and catching our flight. That proved to be an excellent idea, as the trip to Hertz the next morning was flawless.
Then it was time for dinner, and we decided to eat in the attractive restaurant inside the Ibis. Shortly after we ordered our food, another couple sat down at the table next to us, and we enjoyed another “It’s a Small World” experience. This couple was leaving the next morning to begin their trip. As we talked, Dave mentioned that in the mid 1960s he had been stationed at Menwith Hill, near Harrogate in northern England. As it turned out, this couple lived in Skipton, just a few miles from Harrogate. As we continued talking, Dave mentioned that when he was stationed near there, he drove a 1949 MG-TC and that a Mr. Naylor from that area always worked on his car. Unbelievably, the man said, “That’s who works on my car!” Then Dave asked how old Mr. Naylor was now, and the man said, “Well, his sons actually run the business now.” I found that experience just as amazing as the one in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where the woman in the theater had a cousin who lived in Oroville!
The next morning, we returned our rental car to Hertz, took the shuttle to our airport terminal, redeemed our original deposit on the Oyster cards we used in London, bought a snack with those English pounds and boarded our Virgin Atlantic flight back to the U.S.
It was an excellent flight and gave me nearly 11 hours in which to relive/think about our trip to England. It would be impossible to name a single highlight of that trip. (I asked Dave, and he couldn’t name one either.)
I do know that I feel very fortunate that we landed in England in May, 2012, just ahead of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which we enjoyed watching on TV in June (we had much better weather for our Thames cruise than she did), and then we watched the Wimbledon tennis matches, because Dave loves his tennis (multiple times he announced, “I saw that on my grounds tour.”), and our time in our rental car was priceless, as was experiencing “The Night of 1,000 Voices” at Royal Albert Hall with Ken and Ami and our evensong with the boys choir at Westminster Abbey. Most tourists aren’t fortunate enough to experience those.
I was a reluctant traveler to England due to its weather, which I figured was gonna be rainy and chilly in early May. It was a bit chilly for me (some days/nights I even wore my gloves), but we were very fortunate in terms of rain—we saw very little rain.
We hope to go back to England soon. The next time, we’ll spend a night in Avebury and get up to Harrogate, where Dave was stationed during the mid 1960s.
We saw a lot in 10 days time, but I never should have agreed to only four days in our rental car!