Michael’s Trip Diary – Friday, May 14, 2010

Driving to the Cotswolds from Stratford-Upon-Avon

This was to be our last day based in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Tomorrow we were planning to see one final sight in the area, then drive north toward Liverpool, on our way to the Lake District, and then — eventually — Scotland. It was another chilly, grey day (around 48 Fahrenheit in the morning, with a promise of mid-50’s before the day was over). A good day to explore the countryside. We had so enjoyed the two Cotswold villages (Lacock and Castle Combe) we visited last Sunday — seriously, had it only been five days ago? — that we decided to drive down from Stratford to see Chipping Campden and Stow-on-the-Wold, and try to recapture a bit of that charm. Did we succeed? Read on.

Before we left Stratford, though, we had one important chore to accomplish. We were almost out of clean clothes. We drove through the middle of town, took High Street past Nash’s House, and found our way to the SparKlean Launderette on Bull Street again. We left a sizable chunk of laundry to be washed and folded. It was £18.00 ($27.36) for them to do nine days worth of clothing changes for us. Considering how much time we would have needed to spend if we had tried to do it ourselves, it was worth it. There was one caveat, though. We had to be back by 5:00 to pick the clothes up, or we would have to wait until Monday morning to get them. Since we were planning to leave Stratford tomorrow morning, we couldn’t let that happen.

Our first stop was Chipping Campden, twelve miles to the southwest on Campden Road (B4632). The road was only two lanes, one in either direction, and it did twist and curve a bit, but it was nicely paved. Unlike some of the other B-roads we had been on so far, this one had five feet or so of shoulder, which meant the hedgerows weren’t constantly threatening to scrape the paint off the side of the car. Most of the shrubbery was also trimmed low to the ground, so it was possible to see cars coming toward you around bends in the road (and see some of the scenery as well). A nice, rural drive. We shifted roads a couple of times, but didn’t have any trouble finding our way this time.

We arrived in Chipping Campden a little after 11:00, driving past dozens and dozens of buildings constructed of warm stone (something like Bath stone, but much more weathered), along with a few half-timbered buildings (like those in Stratford), and found a place to park on the High Street next to Market Hall. Market Hall is the town landmark, a stone, 17th century covered-roof, open-air, market building. Nothing is sold there today. It’s a protected building by the National Trust.

We walked down High Street, just admiring the architecture. It wasn’t as impressive as Stratford or Bath, but that was understandable. Market towns were destinations where people brought their crops and animals to sell, so — naturally — the architecture was more practical, less concerned with style. Even so, it was interesting to see all these similar structures: no front yards, doors right at the sidewalk, sharing their neighbors’ walls (just like apartments), but still finding a way to show their individuality (flowerboxes, door and window decorations, etc.). We wandered, took a few pictures, but left a little after noon. You can see some of the Chipping Campden and Stow-on-theWold pictures in Flio’s Photo album for today.

Next stop was Stow-on-the-Wold, about ten miles away. The last tenth of a mile was on the Fosse Way (more about that later). Out first stop was at a Tesco (supermarket). They had a free car park there, so we walked into town from there (not far, a few hundred yards). We checked out the Tesco first. Here’s a shot inside. Very nice.

Tesco Supermarket in Stow-on-the-Wold

Tesco Supermarket in Stow-on-the-Wold

We needed another marker for our maps, so we bought that and some rolls for supper tonight. After giving those to Flio for safekeeping, we walked into town. We were getting hungry, so we looked through Market Square, a large shopping area, for someplace to eat, and found a nice tea room called Huffkins. We had some hot soup and fresh bread and a pot of hot tea. Just perfect.

Market Square, Stow-on-the-Wold. Minay is looking for food.

Market Square, Stow-on-the-Wold. Minay is looking for food.

Minay really liked Huffkins’ tea strainers, and asked if they had them for sale, but they didn’t. As we wandered through the town, we stopped in various shops trying to find something similar, but didn’t have any luck. We ended up continuing the search for the rest of the trip. Did we finally find something? We’ll let you know later (much later).

Apparently all the tea at lunch communicated with our bladders. We couldn’t find a free toilet, but did locate some public ones and paid 20 pence (30 cents) apiece for the privilege of relieving ourselves. Fortunately, we had plenty of change on us, but on another UK day one of us wasn’t so lucky. You’ll have to wait until we post Day Twenty for that story.

The parish church of St. Edwards was just to the west of Market Square, and we had read about a particular door there that we wanted to see. A picture of it was posted in Flio’s Photo Album for today, but I’ll repost it here.

Is this the Door to Moria? St. Edward's Church, Stow-on-the-Wold.

Is this the Door to Moria? St. Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-Wold.

The rumor (BrE – rumour) among Tolkien fans is that this door (pretty amazing isn’t it?) was sketched by Tolkien several times. He hiked through this area quite a bit, so the local belief is that he modeled the door into Moria after this one. What do you think?

Stow-on-the-Wold’s architecture was similar to Chipping Campden’s. Much of it was very old stone, especially in the areas tourists would be most likely to see.  Off the main streets, the houses were also built of stone, but the lines of the buildings were more modern. Many of them were what we would call “ranch style” in the States. I did like that the older houses used rough stone for everything, and managed to make it fit. Here’s an example of mixed rough and very-rough (natural) stone on this house’s facade, wall and gate frame.

Stone gate in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stone gate in Stow-on-the-Wold.

We were ready to leave by a little after 3:00, so we made our way back to the Tesco car park. I won’t say I was disappointed in the day, but these two market towns didn’t have the same sort of charm that Lacock and Castle Combe had. At the Tesco’s we checked our maps to make sure we ended up on the right road. Minay’s facial expression, standing by the sign below, tells you how we felt most of the time.

Road Sign, Stow-on-the-Wold.

Road Sign, Stow-on-the-Wold.

As you can see from the sign, if you don’t know the next town on the route, it’s very difficult to tell where you are heading. There’s no north, south, east or west; no indication of distance; no route numbers (A429, B666, M23-Skiddoo). Nothing. A good map is vital. Here’s what we did. Look at this section of our road atlas.

Our route to the Cotswolds, marked in our road atlas.

Our route to the Cotswolds, marked in our road atlas.

The upward pointing arrow on the road sign at the Tesco (meaning drive straight ahead) should have led us to one or more intersections where other signs would have sent us to Burton-on-the-Water or Northleach or Burford. On the map, we could see all three of them were south of Stow-on-the-Wold. Following the other arrow, ahead and to the right, would have sent us to Upper Swell, Ford, or Broadway. On the map, we could see those were all to the northwest. We wanted to go back to Stratford by a different road (the right side of the green diamond on the map). We had already marked it in pen, but didn’t add the green highlight until we had driven on it. None of the towns on that route (Moreton-in-Marsh, Shipston-on-Stour, not even Stratford-Upon-Avon) were listed on the road sign at the Tesco. Sometimes, if you don’t have GPS (BrE – satnav), you just have to guess and hope you’re right.

Instead of turning left and following the signs by the Tesco, we decided that going the other direction was the only logical choice. We turned right, and departed Stow-on-the-Wold on the same road we arrived on, the A429. Sure enough, about a thousand yards down the road, we saw a sign like this. Somehow, we were getting the hang of getting less lost.

Sign on the Roman Road to Stratford.

The A429 is part of the Fosse Way, a very straight Roman road, built in the first century AD. It runs 182 miles from Exeter in Southwest England to Lincoln in the East Midlands. The parts you can drive on are very modern now, nicely paved, two lanes. We traveled north on the Fosse Way for about 12 miles, then cut back to the northwest on A3400 to take us back into Stratford.

Once we were there we only had one immediate chore, to pick up the laundry before 5:00. We got into town just about 4:00, found the launderette easily, but couldn’t find a place to park. See below.

Where to park? Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Where to park? Stratford-Upon-Avon.

It was only legal to park between the dotted lines. We circled the block a couple of times and didn’t see anything likely. I dropped Minay off at the launderette, and went looking again, eventually finding a slot that had barely enough room. It was an interesting experience, to say the least, trying to parallel park a right-hand drive car with a left-hand drive car owner’s mentality. I finally managed to get Flio more or less into the space by the time Minay came trudging down the street, hauling a couple of large bags of freshly washed, dried and folded laundry. We wouldn’t have to go smelly for the rest of the trip.

Back at the Arden Way, we packed everything in preparation for leaving tomorrow, and ate supper in our room (finishing off bits and pieces we had collected over the past few days, even some cheese still left from Bath). After verifying that we did have a room tomorrow, near Liverpool, we read for a while and were probably asleep by 10:30 or so.

The day (and our whole time in the Stratford area) had been enjoyable, but I found myself regretting not having gone to any theater performances while we were here. Minay and I were both actors earlier in life (we met each other at an audition), and Shakespeare has always been one of my favorite playwrights. Why didn’t we take the time to go see something? Maybe we put it off here, thinking it might be possible to see some plays when we got to London. Maybe.

Have you ever been someplace that’s famous for something, but didn’t take advantage of being there? What did you do instead?

Minay’s trip diary for Friday, May 14, 2010, will post next week.


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