Minay’s Trip Diary – Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Driving from Ilfracombe to Stratford-Upon-Avon

After a lovely breakfast and a chat with some of the other guests we left our bed and breakfast and set off for Stratford-Upon-Avon. Remember how much trouble we had finding Ilfracombe when we arrived? Well, we had just as much trouble trying to leave. This tiny town is about five minutes across but it took us close to half an hour to find our way out — I do believe we covered every inch of it at least once. We asked for directions, and people were very nice. They’d say “Just go straight and stay on the main road.” Except the road forks, and both branches are the same size. So we’d try one branch and it led us through nice neighborhoods, some shops, etc. but no main road out of town. Backtracking, we tried the other branch and finally got started out of town only to be stopped by road repairs. After a very frustrating wait (within sight of our turn-off) we were at last on our way. We made one brief wrong turn trying to get on M5, but actually had no problems after that.

Since we arrived in Stratford-Upon-Avon (hereafter referred to only as Stratford) around 2pm, we decided we had time to see something before checking in at our bed and breakfast, Arden Way. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was on our way, so we went there. The weather today was lovely, cool but sunny, and a perfect day for a ramble in the quintessential cottage gardens and heritage orchards that surround the house. Lunch was the first order of business, however, so we went across the street to the Cottage Tea House. A lovely pot of hot tea and sandwiches was just the ticket – and we even had entertainment provided. While we opted to sit inside out of the rather brisk wind, two ladies had decided to sit outside at a table in the sun. No sooner had they walked up than a duck, who knew the score, came to see what he could beg from them. First he just strolled around looking cute. Then he moved in closer to be sure they saw him. Finally, he went for the reach as you can see in the picture below. Success at last – cake for him and his buddy who had joined him. Dinner and a show. Perfect.

The Duckman Beggeth, Anne Hathaway's Cottage Tea Room, Stratford-Upon-Avon

The Duckman Beggeth, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage Tea Room, Stratford-Upon-Avon

After lunch we went to the cottage. It’s hard to fathom that this is the actual house where Anne lived with her family growing up. We Americans sometimes have trouble appreciating the age of things in Europe. We are such a young country that anything over 300 years is ancient. Here, that is still considered toddlerhood. Anyway, the house was charming but it was the gardens that took my breath away. If you have in your mind what the term “cottage garden” might look like this place is the physical embodiment of that image. Riots of flowers such as tulips, bluebells, wallflowers, and wisteria, all glowing with different colors, share space with rose bushes just about to burst forth in bloom. These rub elbows, so to speak, with vegetable beds and herb plantings. Color and fragrance are everywhere. I could fill this whole entry with pictures of flowers but I will just give you a taste instead. First, an overview of the garden:

Anne Hathaway's Cottage Garden, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage Garden, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Next a look at a beautiful bed of mixed flowers:

Bed of mixed flowers, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Bed of mixed flowers, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

And finally my favorites, wallflowers. We don’t have these is Texas (too hot, I expect) but they look something like snapdragons, and smell like heaven with a sweet scent rather like honey.

Wallfowers, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Wallfowers, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

My favorite book as a child was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is what I imagine Dickon’s garden looked and smelled like. It will forever be the image in my mind when I run across the book in the future.

Outside the fenced garden we began to ramble through the heritage orchard and the sculpture garden. Heavily pruned apple trees were covered in blossoms, the ground so littered with fallen petals that it looked like it was carpeted in pink and white.

Apple Tree, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Apple Tree, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Scattered here and there were benches where you could sit and contemplate the garden, the sculptures, beauty and life in general. Here is a living willow arbor complete with a bench designed for lovers to sit facing each other, ready to give or receive a stolen kiss.

Willow Arbor, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Willow Arbor, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Here’s another bench tucked away among the hedges offering a more secluded place to sit and think.

A Bench at the end of a path, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

A Bench at the end of a path, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Finally, it was time to leave this idyllic place, get back in Flio, and try to find our lodgings. We were in the right town, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Wrong, as usual. It was about five minutes away but took us almost forty-five. We bumbled around, called for directions at least once, and argued “Which way do I turn?” “Beats the hell out of me, I don’t know where we are!” With great effort we restrained ourselves from slapping each other and finally found Arden Way. I give Michael credit. We were the last car in, there was only one parking place left which was a very tight fit for our largish car, but he got us parked without bumping into or scratching anything. It was such a tight fit that I couldn’t get out of the car on my side – I had to crawl over the console and squeeze out on the driver’s side.

The room was just lovely and worth the effort. Clean and bright, decorated in white with touches of blue and so inviting we didn’t want to leave even for dinner. But, hunger won out, so we decided to walk the short distance into town, past the river and the statue of Will Shakespeare which Michael has provided a few pictures of. I’ll only include two pictures here. One is of a very, very old building that I am sure Will must have seen himself. Notice the windows.

A Half-timbered building in Stratford-Upon-Avon

A Half-timbered building in Stratford-Upon-Avon

I’ll also add one last flower picture. As we were walking my nose began to twitch. Could that heavenly scent be what I thought it was? Lilacs? I hadn’t seen or smelled them since I was a child growing up in Ohio — but, sure enough, the nose remembered and led me to a tree-sized bush in full bloom. Too bad you can’t smell the perfume of them as well.

Lilac Bush, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Lilac Bush, Stratford-Upon-Avon

In town we bought good rolls, some nice sharp cheese and a packet of crisps (AmE – potato chips. I’m getting used to the local lingo) We got back to the room, and using the thoughtfully provided electric kettle and cups we made ourselves hot tea to go along with our bread and rolls. Over Michael’s strenuous objections yesterday, I’d purchased a lovely pastry. He didn’t object to sharing the treat after our dinner.

I know Michael included a picture of the controls for the shower, but I want to throw in a picture of the sink in our en-suite bathroom. It’s about the size of a loaf of bread, as you can see. But sparkling clean like everything else, to be sure.

Tiny sink at the Arden Way Guest House, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Tiny sink at the Arden Way Guest House, Stratford-Upon-Avon

“And so to bed,” to quote Pepys.


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