England’s Lake District to the Cotswolds

Southbound to England’s Lake District, supposedly the most scenic region in the country. As we drove, the dark skies and rain hid the scenery from us. We planned to stop at the Castlerigg Stone Circle and then on to Keswick to hike the Cat Bells. Rick Steves had told me this was a good spot for a day trip.  Unfortunately, the dark skies and heavy rain continued and fog largely overtook the quaint villages, narrow lakes, and lush greenery we were driving through.

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(Overcast and rainy in the Lake District of England)

We stopped at the Castlerigg Stone circle and walked across the wet mine field of sheep droppings to the circle of ancient pillars.  It is believed to have been constructed during the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, 3300 to 900BCE.  It’s purpose remains unknown, but is thought to have been used for rituals or ceremonies relating to solar and lunar cycles.  Although intrigued by the age and mystery, the heavy rain encouraged us to move on.

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(Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, England)

We arrived in Keswick, discouraged by the uncooperative weather. The hike was not meant to be.  We remembered Chris had suggested a drive over Wrynose pass so we opted to head there instead, hoping visibility would improve.

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(Rained out in Keswick, England)

As we were driving out of the town, traffic slowed to a stop.  It was unclear what was causing the hold-up. Maybe an accident due to the rain?  It soon became clear…

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(Cows…Keswick, England)

We followed Google’s directions to Wrynose Pass, which took us through some exceptionally narrow roads. Tree branches and hedges brushed the car as we slowed to a crawl at times.  Negotiating with oncoming vehicles sometimes required us to reverse carefully to a widened patch of road. Sometimes we won the right of way. It was fun driving.

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(Narrow roads en route to Wrynose Pass, England)

The sun was finally peaking through and before we knew it, the dark clouds mostly blew away to reveal a beautiful blue sky!  We continued down the narrow winding roads, up and down rolling hills overgrown with thick vegetation and bound by moss covered stone walls.

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(Blue skies and sun in the Lake District of England)

We ended up deep in the woods and came to a steep hill paved with sharp, jagged shale unlikely to play nicely with our car’s tires.  Maybe Google meant for us to take the previous turn?  We double backed and veered left.  Soon we passed through a creepy, seemingly abandoned farm noting it would be a perfect set for a horror movie. We promptly hit a dead end so we turned around only to find the singular route through the old farm was now blocked with a large tractor.  Odd, we had just driven through there and the farm was still dead quiet with no sign of life.  The car slowly came to a stop.  We looked at each other and laughed nervously.  The horror set suddenly had all the potential of a horror scene.  I valiantly offered to stay with the car so Rachel could go search for the operator of that tractor.  She politely declined.  As I timidly stepped out of the car, a man appeared from around the corner. He wasn’t armed…promising.  My “hello” was met with a long silence. ‘Please don’t tell me I have a pretty mouth,’ was repeating over and over in my head.  He finally responded with a reasonably friendly hello of his own.  I told him we had made a wrong turn and asked him to move his tractor so we could get by. He reluctantly agreed and, in a reassuring gesture, offered us directions.  The ‘horror’ was over.

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(Deep in the woods of the Lake District, England)

It took two more stops for directions, but we made it to Wrynose Pass.  Signs warned of narrow roads up to 30% grade.  That is steep…very steep.  The steepest in all of England, actually (according to the signs).  But it was gorgeous and so much fun to drive!  Lime green grass carpeted mountains with a single lane road switching sharply back and forth, climbing aggressively from the valley floor to the top of the pass and back down the other side.  There it continued to Hardknot Pass, which is more or less a repeat of the same. All along the way, ancient stone walls divided the land and lazy sheep stared judgingly at the cars struggling up the hills.  Waterfalls were everywhere, flowing the heavy rain water to the valley below.  We pushed our little car over Wrynose Pass and just over Hardknot Pass where we turned around in a thirty-point-turn with sloping mountain on one side and sheer cliff on the other. It was time to eat.

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(Wrynose Pass – Lake District, England)

Chris had mentioned there is a pub at the base of Wrynose pass that had excellent sandwiches.  We came to the Three Shires Inn and Pub as we drove out of the pass and figured this must be it. We pulled in and although we didn’t see any sandwiches, the menu looked good.  We started with a creamy broccoli and blue cheese soup. A winning combo!  I had locally made pork, mango and stilton sausages with chips. The sausages were among the best I’ve had…ever.  Rachel had lamb and mashed sweet potato, which was alright but a little too gamey for my liking.

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(Dinner at the Three Shires Pub – Lake District, England) folder 25-29)

We drove through more pretty landscapes of mountains, lakes, and woods, with cute inns and inviting restaurants.  We reached our home for the night. The Rose Cottage.  Built in the 1700s, it showed its age, but was well kept by a friendly master potter named Iain. The cottage had been in his family for generations.  He showed us to our room, up a narrow ladder of a staircase and down a crooked hallway. This was our first accommodation with a private bathroom. What a treat!  We were quite tired so we had an early night, drifting to sleep with the sound of birds chirping outside.

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(The Rose Cottage – Lake District, England)

Iain made us a nice English breakfast the next morning.  We ate and talked and ended up buying a piece of his pottery before we left. He had an appointment in town so we all left by 9am.

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(English breakfast at The Rose Cottage – Lake District, England)

Back on the road for a 3-4 hour drive to the Cotswolds, the region that supposedly defines quaint.  It is a region of Gloucestershire made up of many small towns that were once the wealthy centre of the woolen industry.  When that industry collapsed, the homes were left in disrepair.  Time passed, transforming the region into the gracefully dilapidated buildings and homes of today.

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(Driving to the Cotswolds, England)

We arrived in Chipping Campden just in time for afternoon tea at the King’s Hotel.  The town, the hotel, everything was very quiet.  We took a seat at a small wooden table in forest green wing-back chairs and made our selections.  Earl grey for me and peppermint for Rachel.  Shortly after the tea arrived, the waitress brought us a tiered tray of scones, clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches and sweets. The raisin scones weren’t bad and the cream was nice but desperately needed salt.  The jam was jarred and more of a jelly than the fresh chunky jam we had hoped for.  On to the sandwiches. Cucumber with mayo, smoked salmon with cream cheese, and roast beef with mustard.  A little dull…alright, very dull. The sweets were consistent with the rest. Not bad, but just not that good either.  Lemon poppy seed loaf, chocolate cake, and strawberry mousse.  We’ve had much, much better. Disappointing because this just seemed like the perfect place for it.

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(Afternoon tea at The King’s Hotel – Chipping Campden, England)

We finished our tea and, eager to improve on our first impression, we wandered around town.  It was nice.  Did I say quaint yet?  It’s very quaint.  It is unique and even enchanting to some degree with slanted buildings, sunken roofs, vine covered stone walls, solid wooden doors and pretty flowers.  But I think we somehow expected more wandering through those streets.  Perhaps more cafes, antique shops, signs of local life?

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(Exploring Chipping Campden, England)

We drove on to the next village, Stow-on-the-Wold.  It was very much like Chipping Campden but utterly bursting with tourists.  So, on we went to Upper and Lower Slaughter.  These were nice areas. There were canals running through the towns with stone bridges and manicured gardens. A leisurely stroll would have been fun, but we opted to drive slowly, stopping occasionally for a picture.  It had been a weak start, but we were finally seeing the beauty of these enchanting towns.

(Driving through Stow-on-the-Wold, England)

(Driving through Upper and Lower Slaughters, England)

We decided to head to the WoodStanway Farmhouse where we would be staying the night.  It was another fun drive through narrow, canopied roads. We arrived at the 17th century home where we met the caretaker, Maggie.  Before being introduced to her very friendly and very old dog, she warned me to take off my hat because the dog doesn’t like hats.  We won the approval of the dog so Maggie took us to our room up a wide spiral staircase and down a crooked hallway.  The room was big with creaky wooden floors, antique furniture, and an en suite complete with a bath tub.  We freshened up and left to check out Stanton before dinner.

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(WoodStanway Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast – Cheltenham, England)

Stanton was off the beaten path and appeared quite affluent. Huge homes, elegantly refurbished to very effectively preserve the character of the old. The gardens and lawns looked to be full time jobs in themselves, with many owners (or their gardeners) out working away as we drove by after 7pm.  It was equally beautiful to the Slaughters and a nice way to end our tour of the Cotswold towns.

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(Exploring Stanton, England)85-89)

We made our way to the The Pheasant Inn Pub to eat and start, planning our coming days in Europe.  We started with the fried brie, which was nothing short of a spiritual experience.  I had the British chicken curry and Rachel had tomato soup. Both were quite nice, but the curry was my favourite. Distinctly different from Indian curries but nicely spiced and seasoned in its own right.  We sketched out a rough itinerary for Europe over ale and cider.

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(Dinner at The Pheasant Inn Pub – Cheltenham, England)

The next morning Maggie prepared us an English breakfast.  We ate in an old dining room as we talked and got to know her a little bit.  She explained to us that the several hundred acres of surrounding land is owned by an Earl and only leased to the locals.  Some of the furniture in the house had been there for quite some time, including an old coal burning stove. It was converted to burn oil in the mid 20th century and, although it still works, it is no longer used because it smells up the whole house. She also explained that she voted to leave the EU. She was the first person we met in that camp so it was interesting to get her take on it.

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(Breakfast at WoodStanway Farmhouse – Cheltenham, England)

After breakfast we packed up and said goodbye to Maggie, then I took my hat off and said goodbye to her dog.  Next stop, Bath.

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