July 09, 2014

Moreton-in-Marsh: Friendly Locals and Radiator Brushes

Thatched houses: check. Gorgeous countryside: check. Old-fashioned pubs: check. Day trip from London, Bath, and Oxford: check. Yes, this is the Cotswold district.

After seeing one too many breathtaking calendars with the inevitable caption "Photographed in the Cotswolds," and reading one too many descriptions of the "nearly edible little bundles of cuteness" that are Cotswold villages, I knew I had to go there.

I flirted with the idea of a day trip when I visited Bath last year, but there wasn't enough time. Last month, however, my dream came true. I spent three nights with my family in the most wonderful cottage situated in the heart of Cotswold country.

Taste of the Cotswolds in Four Days: Part 1

If you've followed this blog for any length of time then you know that Rick Steves is my hero, my mentor, my travel guru. I devoured everything he had to say about the Cotswolds before helping Mom plan our trip. He recommended Moreton-in-Marsh as a home base because of its easy access to public transportation (a rarity in this area). He gives it short shrift in regards to tourism, however, describing it as a "workaday town." I think he undersells it. Sure, this isn't the most atmospheric village in the entire district and it's lacking some thatch, but it's an utterly charming place to stay.

Instead of popping for an expensive B and B, we opted to split the rent on a cottage. It was the best decision we could have made.

Here it is:

Amazing, eh? Look at those ceiling beams! That's my grandmother looking incredibly relaxed on the comfy couch.

So Moreton-in-Marsh was our home base. Can we take a look at that name for a minute?

June 15, 2014

A Magical Visit to Kensington Gardens

I recently fell in love with Peter Pan. Of course I watched the Disney flick as a kid, but last year "the boy who wouldn't grow up" became something of an obsession for me. I read J.M. Barrie's classic novel, then watched three or four film/theatrical versions of the story. I read articles about the deep and conflicted character of Hook, and searched for hidden meanings in the enchanting tale. 

In my obsessive perusings I discovered that Peter first appeared in Barrie's little-known adult novel, The Little White Bird. His mythology began, not in Neverland, but in a place called Kensington Gardens. Barrie transformed this familiar London location into a fairy realm.

Kensington Gardens has loomed large in my imagination ever since, and when I went to London on a recent trip with my family I urged them to stop by.

Aerial view of Hyde ParkNow you should know that Kensington Gardens are huge. Running seamlessly into Hyde Park they combine in a total 625 acres. There is so much to see, and we barely scratched the surface.

June 03, 2014

Exploring Solihull: A Beautiful British Town

Copyrights (David Pursehouse) on Flickr
Okay, so Solihull is not everyone’s idea of a holiday destination, but it has more to offer than you might think. Part of the West Midlands conurbation, Solihull was, historically speaking a part of Warwickshire and many visitors to the town find it surprisingly leafy. The town offers what so few in the locality do – a mixture of the rural and urban in perfect harmony. 

Indeed, more than one recent poll has named Solihull as one of the best places to live anywhere in the UK. The town has plenty to offer visitors despite not really marketing itself as a tourist destination in its own right. Located centrally in the country it makes an excellent destination from just about anywhere in the UK. However, many visitors use its location to their advantage – as a stopping off point when touring the country. If you are heading from the north of the country to the south, for example, or travelling from North Wales to East Anglia, then Solihull lays just about perfectly in the middle. And unlike nearby Birmingham, you don’t have to negotiate a busy city centre to find a vibrant place to spend an entertaining evening or two.

May 10, 2014

The Five “C”s of Kendal

Charming. Old. Wet. 

These words could describe England in general, but they're particularly characteristic of Kendal. This biggish market town is quite famous for a number of things, not the least of which is the mint cake that got Sir Edmund Hillary up Mount Everest. 

My friends and I resolved to see the best of what Kendal had to offer in one afternoon. It's a quiet place, but we found plenty to entertain and stimulate the imagination. Here are five experiences that made my trip to Kendal memorable.

1. Going to Church

My first stop was Kendal Parish Church, one of the widest churches in England. It's normal enough from back to front, but it has five aisles, remnants of a time when the congregation overflowed to over 1,000 members. 

We went inside and it was empty, which was slightly creepy, but it was also nice to have the place to ourselves instead of having someone pushing postcards and coffee at us, angling for a donation. From the bits and pieces we could seeprayer cards, handmade cushions, props for a playthere seems to be a fairly vibrant congregation meeting here and reaching out to the community.

It's a beautiful church, very calm, with lovely chapels and windows.

2. Breaking into a Chinese Restaurant

This is one experience I wouldn't recommend. Someone wanted takeaway food, so we went to a restaurant and saw signs on the door that said "Open" and "Door Sticks, Please Push Hard to Open." So I pushed hard on the door, and harder, and harder, and it finally jolted inwards. 

April 28, 2014

Is a National Trust Membership Worthwhile?

No one likes paying more than they should, especially when traveling on a tight budget. 

When I came to Britain last year, my friend told me about the National Trust and how you could get free entry to dozens of historical sites for a flat rate. My first thought was, "Wow!" My first question was, "Is it worth it?" 

The National Trust is a charity that seeks to preserve places and objects of historic value and extraordinary beauty for future generations. 

If you're thinking of visiting a few NT sites within the next year, a membership could save you loads of money. However, I'll explain why I think most people won't make their money back on a membership.

April 12, 2014

More British Oddities

To continue the never-ending saga of British oddities (since it literally has no end), let's dwell on some quirks that set this delightful nation apart from my own. 

If you're a native of Britain or have lived here long enough to call it home then you might be used to these idiosyncrasies. As a greenhorn expat fresh from the States I had a little trouble adjusting to them.  

First Floor—No—Ground Floor

Navigating a multi-story building can be a bit tricky for an American in Britain. If the bookshop is on Floor 1 then that does not mean it is at street level. Neither does Floor 3 sit on top of just two other floors. In this country the ground floor is regarded as Floor 0, the next floor is 1, and so on. So on your next trip to London take your time in the lift and double-check that you really want to go up 16 stories and not 17. 

A Bun or a Bun? 

April 06, 2014

Two Hours in Skipton

With only two hours to discover a new town, where would you go first?

You've had no time to do in-depth research on the area's history, you only know a couple of must-see landmarks, and you're hoping the rain holds off before you have to get back on your coach. 

This was my predicament when I arrived in Skipton.

When I left Capernwray Hall to go on this afternoon jaunt, all I knew was that Skipton is the "Gateway to the Dales." Heretofore my familiarity with the Dales rested entirely on one of my favorite British shows, All Creatures Great and Small. A "dale" is, I have discovered, a river valley, and the county of Yorkshire is riddled with these. They make for some of the most stunning countryside I've seen in my life.

Skipton is located in North Yorkshire
 Skipton shown within North Yorkshire*

A Boating Excursion 

One of my dear traveling companions (incidentally, a blog-reading Britophile like you) recommended we spend some of our precious minutes riding on a canal boat. I loved the idea; I'd seen canal boats before but never thought I would actually get in one of them. We discovered Pennine Cruisers, a tiny family-run company that let me and my friends take a private 30-minute boat trip for only £3 each. Our vessel had the incredibly creative name of "Sam," and we were motored along by a tight-lipped man who steered the boat as we ooed and ahhed and leaned too far over to see the ducks.
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