Visiting the English countryside on the wrong side of the road.
A few days into our London trip, I had planned for the boyfriend and myself to go out to the Cotswolds for a day. Our friend Hope had gone a while back and had nothing but great to say about it. As someone who frequently reads historical fiction set in the 19th century and often in country settings much like this, how could I not visit?
Our bucolic excursion, however, started a tad rocky. We hired a car in London with the plan that boyfriend would drive, since I never learned to drive manual. You can reach many places in the Cotswolds by train and bus, but then you're at the mercy of often limited timetables and ultimately I wanted the flexibility of driving ourselves around. But a good plan isn't without it's rough patches. It'd been a while since he'd driven stick, and had never driven left hand stick before. As we set out on the A40, there was about thirty minutes of tense frustration at navigating the challenges of driving on the reverse side, both on the road and maneuvering the car. The clutch got a bit heated, but eventually as we reached the outskirts of the city we got acclimated. With things back in order, we were comfortably on our way.
First stop, Oxford, where we spent about an hour or so strolling around.
Oxford is a beautiful, old university city full of tall, sandy colored Gothic buildings, cobblestone streets, and bicycles. Many, many bicycles. It's very clear the moment you get into the city how much of a college town it is. Lots of takeaway and affordable places to eat line the city streets and as we walked past the different colleges, Oxford students were making their ways to classes and discussing their different studies and professors. I had a small pang of envy towards them as they passed by; I can only imagine how amazing it must be to study at Oxford with all its history and prestige.
I really wanted to see inside the actual Bodleian Library itself, but unfortunately (yet probably wisely) it's not open to the public. Only students and those with special permission are allowed in the library. Still, you are allowed to explore some of the outer courtyard and catch a glimpse of the old school signs.
Whereas London is a patchwork of its different style, I'd say Oxford is a bit more uniform and better preserved. There are of course some modern buildings, but for the most part, the city is full of beautiful, old architecture. I didn't get a picture in passing, but it definitely has one of the nicest looking Starbucks I've ever seen from the outside.
If you visit Oxford, I suggest starting at Carfax Tower and doing a loop around the city, making sure to see the different colleges and stroll along Merton Street, Rose Lane, Dead Man's Walk, and Broad Walk. You'll get a great overview of the city and it'll take you strolling along the large pitch by Merton College and Christ Church. If you're lucky, depending on timing, you can get tickets for a Great Hall tour and see some of the sights used in the Harry Potter films. If we go to London again at all, I would definitely want to spend more time in Oxford and perhaps next time just take the train and hire a bicycle. We didn't explore the rivers, which are a bit of famous part of Oxford as well, so next time that's definitely on the list. And, perhaps, seeing if I can find a way to get permission to go into the library.
Our next stop was Burford, a small town with a lot of charm and one amazing view as you drive down its main road. We stopped here briefly for lunch, having traditional fare at a local pub called The Cotswold Arms. We walked along the high street road for a bit and then headed back to the car and towards the next town on my list.
When I was looking at directions on Google Maps, I saw that Bourton-on-the-Water had a Model Village. We stopped there first and decided to just park there since the parking was good for an hour, and we quickly walked around the tiny model village of the town. No Timothy Daltons were harmed in the making!
Afterwards, we cross the street to check out the bridges along the shallow river that cuts through the town. There were a lot of cute shops and gaggles of geese and ducks splashing about the water. This ended being the boyfriend's favorite stop of the day.
From there, we headed over to Broadway to check out Broadway Tower Park, which boasts some amazing views of the area. The Tower itself is an 18th century folly, but I ended up finding the surrounding land more interesting. It's so green and beautiful there, and quiet. It's an easy place to just relax and take everything in. It's also quite a nice spot for a picnic.
If you're looking for a spot to get an amazing view of the rolling green hills of the Cotswolds, Broadway is definitely a stop you should make. And it's also conveniently on the way to Chipping Campden, an old market town that was our last stop.
This is where things get a little mixed bag. From looking at pictures before our trip on Google, I found the actual town was not quite what I expected. It's more narrow streets and not as much an open square-type place as I had thought. Still, I imagine it's much busier in spring time. As it was October, it was much quieter with not a lot of people about when we went.
I did find that small homes along the street looked pretty charming, and the fall foliage was positively delightful. Since I live in Northern California now, we don't really get the same vibrant changing of colors like this unless you make a trip up to Napa Valley or Yosemite I imagine.
It was interesting to see what remained of the old market structure, built in 1627. It's still mostly well in tact, as you can see in the image above, and I can only imagine how bustling this place must have been in the Middle Ages.
But as all good things, they must come to end, and as it was getting late and the sun was setting, we started our journey back to London along country B roads and motorways until the glittering city lights were in sight. After dropping off the car and getting a quick bite to eat nearby in Notting Hill, it was time to sleep after the long day of driving around the countryside.
Of all the places, Bourton-on-the-Water as a definitely favorite, and for me so was Oxford. I think I almost liked it the best, oddly enough, because despite it being more city than the other stops, it had a vibe about it and the gravitas of academic history that left me utterly charmed.
If you are visiting London and have the time, definitely take a day to explore the Cotswolds. It's a good way to catch your breath and take a break from the busy hustle.