I've seen a lot over the last few days and I've only scratched the surface of what this area has to offer.
Tuesday: Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle.
Wednesday: Chipping Campden and other local spots
Thursday: Avebury and Stonehenge
Friday: Tolkien and Blenheim Palace.
Stratford, of course, is all things Shakespeare. I came across Anne Hathaway's cottage first. 7 pounds 50 to get in plus a pound for parking. The cottage is quite big - thatched roof, interior beams, fully furnished, etc. Photography not allowed inside. The beds look particularly uncomfortable!
The town itself is very pretty. There's the Avon River of course, plus a canal. The narrow boats moored there all seemed to be cafes and ice cream vendors. There's a signpost on the canal: 199 miles, 154 locks and 99 hours to Liverpool by canal. :)
Shakespeare's birthplace is right on the main street. I didn't go in for the tour but wandered randomly round the town instead.
There's an interesting, very old, Tudor style building next to a church not far from the town centre. Like Canterbury, it turned out to be a school so I couldn't get in. Pub names mostly refer to Shakespeare or his plays in one way or another. The one place I forgot all about was the Globe Theatre. Unforgivable, I know. Maybe I'll get back there some other time.
From Stratford I headed into Warwick and checked out the castle there. 18 pounds to get in plus 5 pounds to park! Expensive day out. It's a bit Disney inside but interesting nonetheless. The falconer was doing his thing when I got there so I stopped to have a look. I'd missed the first bird, it was just being put away, but I was just in time for the Sacred Falcon. Apparently he's a youngster, still in training. Probably explains why, when his hood was finally removed, he flew away and didn't come back. I saw him later over the other side of the castle, so he hadn't gone far.
The Great Hall is amazing. Not huge but big enough and it's full of medieval weapons and armour. There are two full sized, fully armoured knights on horseback in the centre area of the hall. Swords, spears, pikes and various pieces of armour grace the walls. It would have been the perfect place to take Yr 8 history classes for an excursion!
I've got some reasonable photos but haven't uploaded them yet for some reason.
The next day I was treated to a 2 hour tour of the local area by Barry, the owner of the B&B where I'm staying. It's part of the package if you stay 3 or more nights. Me being me I didn't really want to go, thinking it'd be a waste of time. But now I'm glad I went. He showed me a lot of places I probably would have missed on my own. The Cotswolds is a beautiful region. The trees, well the leaves, are all yellow, gold, red, rusty brown. Just gorgeous. There were a lot of cars parked along one stretch of road and Barry got all excited. "Hunt followers", he cried. So we stopped and waited. Sure enough, a whole lot of people on horses accompanied by hounds appeared. I thought fox hunting was outlawed here now but it still goes on. Barry said I was privileged to see it but I'm not so sure. Thankfully, the hounds didn't flush a fox - that would have been distressing I think.
One of the places we went through was Chipping Campden, the nearest town. I went back for a closer look in the afternoon. Apparently Johnny Depp stayed there a few years ago while filming something or other. Very nice place.
Being in The Cotswolds is like being in The Shire.
Yesterday I went further afield - to Avebury and Stonehenge. Avebury is about an hour and a half's drive from here. It's a small village but is surrounded by one of the biggest stone circles in Europe and England's largest. The circle has a diameter of about 1000 feet. It is, in turn, surrounded by a huge ditch and earth rampart. The only way to photograph the whole thing would be from the air. The circle is spread over a number of fields, many of which have sheep grazing in them as well. It pays to watch where you walk!
Stonehenge is about 30 kms further south so I thought I might as well wander on down, seeing as I was so close. Absolutely awesome. I was impressed by the scale of Avebury but its size means, for me, it lacks the impact of Stonehenge. It truly is a magical place. You have to be quick though as they close it up at 4pm at this time of year. 6 pounds 90 to get inside the huge chicken wire fence that stops people just wandering in from the road. It's worth it though. It's easy to see why it's such a magnet for alternative culture types.
There's a rope barrier around the henge to stop people wandering through the stones - a result of too much damage done in the past. The good thing about that is that it's possible to get a decent, people-free photograph. :) The sun was going down as I was there. I would have loved to have stayed longer but they were ushering people away by then.
The drive back to Mickleton - two hours in the dark and drizzling rain - was not so good.
Today I thought I'd go to Oxford, just over an hour from here. First off I went to Wolvercote cemetery to pay my respects to my favourite author: JRR Tolkien. I found the town of Wolvercote (sort of north Oxford) and stopped at the pub for directions to the cemetery. A bloke there said "Oh, that's at the other end of town, five mile drive." So I got directions and off I went. Hahahaha, 'five mile drive' is not an indication of distance but it is the name of the road the cemetery's on. Three minutes away.
He's buried there with his wife, Edith. The headstone refers to them as Luthien and Beren. Very touching.
I decided to bypass Oxford as traffic is horrendous there. I went to Blenheim Palace instead. It's the home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Huge place with even huger grounds and gardens. Photographs are not allowed inside but I snuck some anyway. Photos of the grounds are limited as it was raining constantly. Bleah! I wandered around for a while though - determined to get my money's worth. Another 18 pound entry fee. However, I was able to trade my ticket in for an annual pass so I can go back at any time for free - weather permitting.
Today is November 5th: Bonfire night. Guy Fawkes night. I went to Chipping Campden to see the fireworks but it was still raining, and getting heavier. I was fed up with being wet, and especially fed up with my camera getting wet, so decided that I'd give it a miss. There will be more displays tomorrow in the area so, weather permitting, I might get some fireworks pics.
I have one more day here. As I type, the plan is to go to Gloucester. That might change though.
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