Fleeing the cityscape of Bath, we headed north into the charming countryside of central England and the Cotswold area. The Cotswolds are always described as the best scenic drive in England, a place where city dwellers vacation for lazy long weekends and somewhere where life slows down and takes notice. This description is not incorrect.
We headed out of Bath and a bit north to visit a couple of villages in the Cotswolds region. We began the afternoon getting lost on two-way single lane roads trying to find our way into the Slaughters. Originally, we were planning to head into Upper Slaughter first, but since we managed to find the road to Lower Slaughter that was where we decided to go. We parked the car just outside the village near a fishing spot and headed in to walk around a bit. Lower Slaughter is a super-small town, very quaint and quintessential English cottage-like. We walked by the brook running through town and by a few homes.
We ended up finding a walking trail, Warden’s Way, that would take us into Upper Slaughter, just a 20-30 minute walk down the path. The walk was a nice chance to get out and just see the countryside. I was perhaps delirious and intoxicated with the English air because I did at one point suggest to the Husband that it would be a great idea for us to do a backpacking/hiking trip on our return to England in a few years. Those of you who know me know that’s probably NOT going to happen! But this short walk made me think it could someday be a possibility. 😉 We passed the river that fed the town brook, watching swans and ducks dive into the water. We wandered through sheep fields where the sheep stare at you inquisitively wondering why you are intruding on their land. We listened to constant baa-ing coming from the distance where it was determined that local farmers were in the process of shearing their sheep. We walked through a shaded wood that took us down the road into Upper Slaughter.
Upper Slaughter was very similar to its Lower sister with the same cobblestone houses and small village streets. There was a tiny parish church in the center of town with a lovely shaded graveyard bearing the names of villagers past. We strolled a bit before heading back past the sheep to Lower Slaughter and the car. After collecting the car, we headed just down the road to the king village of the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold. As it was by now, late evening, the sleepy town was quiet, all of the day trippers and tourists having moved on and returned back to the big cities. We checked into our residence for the evening, The Bell at Stow, and headed out to walk around the town before dinner.
Stow is so small that you can really walk from one end of town to the other in about 5 minutes. But it’s the perfect Cotswold getaway with plenty of shops and restaurants available for those wishing to partake. We walked by the town churches and sat for a minute in the old village square in the center of town. The square still holds the old stocks, a remembrance to the criminals of times gone by in this wool market town. Back at the Bell, we had what was probably my favorite dinner of the trip. Since we were a few minutes ahead of our reservations, we were welcomed at the bar for a couple of cocktail pints before being seated in the dining area. The Bell bar seemed to be a favorite for those staying the evening on their way through the area and for locals fro town as well. They even had a lovely outdoor picnic area to accommodate patrons when the weather cooperated (as it did while we were there). Dinner was amazing. I dined on a cheddar and beer souffle before having the best steak and ale pie that I had during our entire trip. The Husband had the seafood specials that evening. For dessert, he decided on an Eton Mess, which is basically a big ice cream sundae, while I enjoyed chocolate and orange pudding. Everything was delicious. And the service here was outstanding. When we do return for that hiking trip, I plan to return to the Bell and use it as a base to explore the area. I will add that the Bell is not a traditional B&B. It’s more of a regular tavern, a bar downstairs that just happens to let a couple of rooms on the upper floor. I was somewhat apprehensive about how this would work out, but was eager to give it a try. And I’m so glad we did. The service and amenities for our stay made me wish we were staying at the Bell for a week. It was simply lovely.
The following morning after breakfast, we decided to change up our plan a bit and have some fun. The original plan was to visit a few more Cotswold villages for more glimpses at small town life, but instead we decided to visit Warwick Castle to have a little history and silliness injected into the middle of our trip. On the site of the current Warwick Castle, William the Conqueror has built an early castle after his successful invasion campaign in 1068. During the later Middle Ages, the wooden castle was rebuilt in stone leaving the large complex that survives today. The Castle was inhabited by well-to-dos, namely earls, until the 1970s. Because of this, the castle was not allowed to fall into ruin and stands a prime example of 13th century castle architecture. Now, the silliness factor comes in because the castle was purchased in the 1970s by the Tussauds group (of Madame’s wax museum fame). They have turned the Castle into sort of Medieval theme park. There are shows and demonstrations and mini-tours. There are people in costumes and wax figures throughout. Despite the kitsch (and the expense), the castle is worth a visit and still tells great stories about the history of the grounds. It would be an excellent stop for those with children as well. We did do an additional mini-tour of the dungeon which is sort of like a haunted house but it tells the stories of plague and medieval torture . Yours truly was put on trial for being a witch and the Husband was beheaded for supporting Lady Jane Grey. It was fun, but beware the smells if you go.
After spending the better part of the day at Warwick, we then headed out for long drive towards our destination for the next several days, York.