England 2010, Day 1: Biking the Cotswolds
Sunday, July 25—We woke feeling refreshed and ready to try our first English breakfast. The “full English” breakfast, or fatboy as it’s also called, consists of eggs, sausages, “bacon” (more like ham), baked beans, grilled tomato, and sometimes, grilled mushrooms. Charlie, the innkeeper, motions with his hands to indicate where a massive gut should be when he says “fatboy.” It is a cultural experience (which, sadly, I never got a picture of). The good thing about this breakfast is that it keeps you full until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Of course, breakfast also comes with toast and tea (or coffee if you wish—we don’t wish).
We shared the breakfast table with another American couple who were also using Rick Steves’ England as their trip guide. They are pleasant company, but had to leave shortly after we arrived to pack and catch their train. Just as we were finishing breakfast, another American, Sally, joined us at the table. Sally was fun and quirky, and she talked our ears off about TI-83 calculators, which she used to evangelize at high schools and colleges before they were common. She’s thrilled to hear we both owned and used them in high school.
After breakfast we were ready to hit the road. It was a perfect summer day: blue sky filled with puffy white clouds, a light breeze, and temperatures in the low 70s.
The Cotswolds have been officially (and rightfully) designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But the area lacks comprehensive public transportation options. Bus service is fair, but far from complete. The train only services a few key cities. Thankfully, the many Cotswold villages are only a few miles from each other and easily seen by car. Neither of us wanted to try driving on the left or navigating the roundabouts. Thus the bike plan.
We started our course with a section of uphill road toward Batsford, but our friends at the toy shop promised us it would level out. Which it did. Eventually. I might have felt comfortable and confident on a bike, but my thighs were already reminding me how long it had been. Fortunately, after about a mile we came upon this:
…which led us to this:
Next we headed off toward Aston Magna. On the way we crested a hill and stopped to admire the view:
Aston Magna itself is a tiny, picture-perfect village:
Paxford was our next destination, but we turned left instead of right at Aston Magna, and ended up in Draycott instead. This wasn’t a huge deal as Draycott is only 1 mile from Aston Magna, but we quickly realized that the 1 mile back is uphill. On the way, we stopped to visit with some cows and got a nice picture of the town sign that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Back on course again, we saw the first sheep for which this area is famous.
Next up, Ebrington:
Another picture-perfect English garden:
Finally, we made it to Chipping Campden. At this point we were both ready to have some time off our bikes. It was past 3:00 and we hadn’t eaten since our big breakfast. Almost immediately we spotted a little local shop selling small cups of ice cream and we indulged in a cool treat. Then we locked our bikes to a tree and went off in search of some real food. Many of the restaurants had just stopped serving lunch, but we found a tea room, Badgers Hall, that seemed to be what we were looking for.
After quickly downing some refreshing cold water, we turned our attention to the menu. I ordered a jacket potato with tuna and kernel corn and side salad, while Jeff had one of the dishes that won a local “comfort food” contest (can’t remember what it was called) and side salad.
Both meals were delicious and really hit the spot. However, the baked goods were also calling to us so we decided to order tea and cakes (after all, we were in a tea room). Jeff had a traditional scone with jam and clotted cream, and I had treacle tart with clotted cream. I had been curious about treacle tart ever since reading Harry Potter, as it is Harry’s favorite dessert. Now I understand why! Treacle tart is made with golden syrup, similar to honey, and has a caramel-like taste. My serving was much bigger than I expected and very gooey.
After our delightful respite, we set out to explore the town. Chipping Campden gained its wealth from the wool trade in the late Middle Ages and is built almost entirely of locally quarried limestone known as Cotswold stone. Even the roofs are made of stone shingles.
St. James Church, one of the finest of the Cotswold “wool churches”:
All too soon it was time to continue our bike ride. We rode through tiny Broad Campden and just past the village, on our way to Draycott, I had a small bike emergency when the chain came off part way up a hill. Fortunately I had dealt with this situation before, and, with some help from Jeff, we were soon back in business, albeit a bit dirtier.
We visited Draycott (for the second time) and were surprised, but pleased with how much quicker the return journey was as we were getting pretty tired by this time.
All along our journey this day, we saw multiple paths leading off through the fields. We were very near the Cotswold Way series of footpaths that lead all-around the countryside. Some of them were also marked with signposts.
After walking up a steep, seemingly never-ending hill, we came across a lovely patch of the rapeseed that grows all over the hills.
We made it back to Moreton-in-Marsh just after 8pm, tired but happy. We estimated that we rode about 13 miles that day.
Eventually we wandered out for a late dinner (even by British standards), and ended up with a hodge-podge of items from Tesco Express (a local grocery and convenience shop) which we ate back in our room.