Now that I look back to see where I left off from telling you about my trip, I see that I left off very near the beginning. So let’s go back there… We arrived in Chipping Campden, a small village in the area referred to as the Cotswolds, on Thursday evening, the 19th. As I described in the first post, we split into two small hotels (The Volunteer Inn and the other one, the name of which I cannot now recall). Our group met for tea. I think that was the most lackluster time we spent together the entire trip. Everyone was pretty subdued — tired, confused by the menu and having to work hard to make small talk. I decided afterwords that I’d head straight to bed. However, I ended up taking a wander around the town. Glad I did. See “Post from the Cotswolds #1). Slept like a log. Our room at the Volunteer Inn was tiny and very basic: two twin beds, two little side tables, a tv on a shelf, bathroom down the hall. Most everyone had their own bathroom but Roberta and I said we’d do the shared bath as someone had to take it. Heather said she’d buy us both a drink for that. Don’t know if she paid up with you, Roberta, but she covered my drink in Bath, so I got mine! Definitely a no-frills place. Much like a hostel. In fact, that’s really what it was as it’s used mostly by travelers through the area, many of which are hiking the Cotswold Way. All they care about is a bed and a shower and a pub downstairs where they can have a drink at the end of their day.
I woke the first morning after in MUCH better shape. It was four in the morning. I’d woken with the sun, as I do at home. I stayed in bed a long time then finally got up, showered and went downstairs to post to the blog. Seemed like a good plan for the week. Get up early, write while everyone is still asleep, have coffee, join up with them at breakfast. We know how often that scenario took place after the first morning!
Eventually the breakfast room opened and Roberta and I were the first there, looking for coffee. Coffee in England: tastes just fine, served with 2% milk or at best, whole milk. What are those Brits thinking? Decided I’d forego the milk — what’s the point, eh? We were offered variations on the “full English breakfast” which is usually fried eggs, sauteed tomatoes, a baked tomato (yes, baked), bacon or sausage (bacon looks more like thinly sliced ham, cooked to crispness if they are doing it right) and baked beans (in a light, sweet-ish tomato sauce instead of our style of baked beans). It’s a big plate of food, alright! I opted for scrambled eggs and salmon and coffee and no matter what, you are always offered toast. The toast is quite good here. And these people believe in well-toasted toast, which I appreciate. The food was meh. Like the rooms, it was basic but adequate to our needs.
Eventually our whole group gathered, looking MUCH better than they had the evening before. There were ten of us, including the tour guide, Heather Radl. Much of the group is comprised of a kntting group that meets regularly in New Hampshire. Then there was an addition from New Jersey, one from Connecticut (she’d traveled with Heather on last year’s Whiskey and Wool tour of Scotland — now there’s a trip worth taking!) one NH knitter’s mom from Vermont, and me. We ranged in age from early 40s to late 70s. And I can tell you some of the more senior hikers in the group kicked my butt. A few of them are avid athletes all year ’round. I generally hate hiking, as some of you know. Though I like a good wander now and again.
We jumped on a van/small bus and were driven into Stratford-Upon-Avon, well known as the birthplace of Shakespeare and a town that hosts the Royal Shakespeare Company. Our first stop was Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the family home of the Shakespeares.
(Aha! Now I see what happens when I email myself only a small size of the photo…)
Some of us were lucky enough to listen to a docent describe the kitchen, how it worked, how the family structures of the time were arranged. He was a very proper, distinguished looking sort of a fellow. He asked about the nature of our group. When we described ourselves as knitters on tour together, he broke into a big smile and let us know that he’s a knitter too. Then followed a fifteen minute laughing festival as he described the inordinantly large size of his stash (of wool and projects), how his husband is always complaining it’s taking over the house, and the difficulty of understanding American patterns (written all wrong, all wrong). He is even on Ravelry! Hilarious. What a character. We wandered the house, the grounds and then made our way outside. Together we walked through the neighborhoods to the center of Stratford-Upon-Avon (SOA hereafter).Everywhere were lush plantings — wisteria blooming like you wouldn’t believe!
Some of us went on to visit another Shakespearean home nearer the center of town. Others went to a performance by the RSC of Cymbeline. Then I wandered with Maureen over to Trinity Church, the final resting place of William Shakespeare. Joe, didn’t we just watch a documentary about the mystery of his tomb and why the stones in the floor had been disturbed???? Well, imagine my surprise to find myself standing in front of THOSE VERY STONES just a week later!
Maureen stayed awhile, but I was ready for a wander. Found myself strolling along the river Avon. Lots of folks were out, enjoying the beautiful weather. I sat down and took out my notebook to sketch. I was rustling around in my backpack when I felt someone staring at me. I looked around. Seeing nothing, I went back to rustling in my backpack.
That’s when I saw them.
Two suspicious looking ducks, a male and a female. They’d flown up out of the water and onto the grass near me and were approaching, slowly. They looked at me. They looked at my backpack. They looked at me again. They looked at my backpack again. They took two steps closer. They looked at the backpack.
It was tough to understand them, but finally their oh-so-subtle gestures communicated to me that they thought I had some food in there.
I explained that I did not — not even a snack for me. If I had, I’d surely share. They were unconvinced.
I turned my attention back to my pack and finally my hands felt a pen. I pulled it out with a triumphant “Hooray!” The ducks looked hopeful. Again, I had to explain that this was not a food item, nor did I have one with me. I started to sketch. Unfortunately, I’d only come up with a ball point pen and it wasn’t writing too well. The ducks waited patiently.
Tourists were walking by and smiling at me and the ducks. They assumed I was feeding the ducks. The ducks assumed that I would soon feed the ducks. Only I seemed aware that I REALLY HAD NO FOOD IN MY BACKPACK.
Feeling guilty, I stuffed my sketchpad and useless ballpoint pen back in my backpack and got up to go. The ducks continued to look hopeful, even as I walked away from them. I’m STILL haunted by guilt that I had no food to offer those ducks.
Eventually our entire group met up at an agreed-upon location. Turns out, most of the group attending Cymbeline ducked out because they were falling asleep AND the weather was so beautiful they just couldn’t stand being inside. I’d wandered along the river, had the duck incident and then happened upon a farmer’s market in the middle of the town. Beautiful blackberries and strawberries! Picked up a few. Others had shopped a bit. We hopped on our waiting van and returned to Chipping Campden for the evening. Some of us attended an evening’s performance of the local music festival — Bach sonatas, by violin and harpsichord. I had a drink at the Victorina Inn’s pub afterwords. Pretty rowdy down there. (And in fact, continued to be rowdy through much of the night). Finally, some sleep.
Lots of little things happen throughout the day, and they get dropped in the telling because it takes so long to relate what we did. But the moments were rich: sharing jokes and showing off purchases, picking out food together, the outrageous number of times people asked Heather the EXACT SAME QUESTION, Annie’s purple pen explosion… Group travel is fun and also (pleasantly) exasperating. But it only took me one day to decide that fortune had indeed favored me with a great group of travel companions. Cheers, ladies!