In Europe, Life as an Expat, Travel

To the Cotswolds and Beyond

Sorry for the writing hiatus! We’ve been traveling a fair bit lately so I haven’t been writing as much. Now that we’re back in London for a week, though, I have lots of new stories to share!

At least before we head to Scotland next week…

Last week our good friend Paige visited from New Jersey. Our first visitor since the arrival of all of our furniture, she also chose a beautiful time to visit. Spring has officially sprung in London!

There were definitely a few false alarms earlier—a 70º spell in February and some warm days in March—but last week spring arrived. At least I hope so! Rainy March led into a flowery and sunny April that meant we spent a lot of Paige’s visit outside.

Still new to the UK, I enjoyed the opportunity to do some fun and slightly touristy activities during Paige’s visit. These included a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a day-trip to Cambridge, and high tea in Marylebone, amongst others.

More on all that later! This post is going to focus on our mini-break to the Cotswolds, Malvern, and the Welsh countryside.

The Cotswolds

For anyone unfamiliar with it, the Cotswolds refers to a region in south central England known for several things:

  1. beautiful and historic country villages
  2. the wool trade, specifically of Cotswold Lion sheep
  3. rolling green hills and a unique grassland climate
  4. a distinctive honey-colored limestone known as Cotswold stone

These characteristic features of the Cotswolds make it a popular and desirable destination for Brits and international tourists alike. Similarly to the Surrey Hills, the Cotswolds is considered an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This label is well-deserved in my opinion as the Cotswolds is a unique and beautiful place to explore.

For our trip, we departed London on Friday afternoon—Good Friday is a bank holiday in the UK. After only three months driving on the left, David has now mastered doing it in a manual as well!

This was fortunate for us since the Cotswolds isn’t easy to reach by train or other public transportation. A proper Cotswolds visit includes driving from one quaint village to the next, so a car is pretty much a necessity.

Since we only had about 36 hours for our visit, we weren’t able to visit lots of villages, but stopping in Stow-on-the-Wold and driving through a few other idyllic villages gave us a good sense of the region.

Stone cottages with thatched roofs characterize the Cotswolds villages, along with a spattering of local shops, churches, restaurants, and pubs. The region’s age is clearly visible in the weathered limestone façades and incredibly low doorways of its architecture.

Oxford

The drive from our home in North London to our Airbnb in Malvern (just north of the Cotswolds) took us right through Oxford, so we stopped there for an informal tour and picnic on our way.

Oxford’s intricate ancient buildings and perfectly manicured lawns leave no doubt that it’s the oldest university in the English-speaking world. After visiting Cambridge earlier in the week, it was interesting to compare and contrast the two old rivals.

Personally, I preferred Cambridge’s quieter atmosphere and its charming riverboats to Oxford’s urban streets, but both are spectacular to behold. As an American, most universities I’ve visited date to the 19th or 20th centuries—Oxford and Cambridge were founded in 1096 and 1209 respectively.

A hot sunny day in Oxford called for a quick shop at Marks & Spencer and a pleasant riverside picnic in the shade of some willow trees. Then it was back on the road.

Malvern

Our trip to the Cotswolds was a relatively last-minute decision, at least as far as holiday bookings go. Our lodging options weren’t exactly extensive as a result, so we ended up staying outside of the Cotswolds in Birtsmorton, Malvern, another AONB. This turned out to be just fine, though, as we drove through the Cotswolds to get to our Airbnb.

Our Airbnb was a fun and unique experience as it’s a little granny’s cottage attached to a farmhouse in the remote countryside. There were flocks of fluffy white sheep only feet from our cottage. Not to mention that our friendly host also allowed us to pay a visit to some sweet little lambs born only earlier that day! So cute to watch them get the hang of their long skinny legs.

This little lamb (and its twin) were born the day we arrived.

After a long day of driving, we popped into the local pub—the aptly named Farmers Arms—for a delicious and very affordable dinner.

Cottage pie for David and jacket potatoes with beans for Paige and I. Hearty British comfort food at its best!

Wales

The next morning after one last stroll amongst our wooly friends, we climbed back into the car. Our drive home included fun and impromptu stops at several more villages as well as some major sites from throughout history.

White Castle

David found a really neat castle in the village of Llantilio Crossenny in Monmouthshire, Wales. Known as White Castle, the Norman fortification dates to 1066. Free to enter and dog-friendly, it was well worth a stop.

Llanthony Priory

Our next stop was at Llanthony Priory, the beautiful arched ruins of an abbey in Abergavenny, Wales. While it’s been a religious site since the early 12th century, the structures that remain date from its reconstruction in the 13th century.

When Henry VIII called for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey was sold for £160 and it has been left to the elements ever since.

Free, but not dog-friendly, we took turns wandering through the abbey’s arched ruins and enjoying the sun outside its walls with Spark

While the ruins themselves aren’t dog-friendly, The Half Moon Hotel and Restaurant across the street welcomes dogs inside and out. Here we enjoyed a very memorable lunch in the restaurant’s amazing garden. The garden has a field of sheep on one side and a horse maybe ten feet away on the other! Not exactly something any of us had experienced before.

Lunch at the Half Moon Hotel, complete with a horse (behind Paige).

After our first trip to Wales in early February, it was very pleasant to revisit this beautiful country in the midst of spring. Flowers and wildlife were plentiful, as were adorable lambs and other cute farm animals. We even saw a snake—he was less cute. The Cotswolds are lovely, as is Oxford.

Overall, it was a lovely 36-hour adventure and we’re very thankful we got to share it with a friend!

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